Have you ever been in the middle of a baking project and discovered your brown sugar is as hard as a brick? Or wondered if you could use white sugar in place of brown? Or maybe been intrigued with the idea of making your own brown sugar? Here's everything you need to know.

How it is made

It is white sugar with molasses added, giving it a golden brown color and slightly sweet taste, with a different consistency.

How to store

Empty it into an airtight container and store it in a cool dry place. A piece of bread or apple may be laid on top to make sure it doesn't get hard. If you don't use it often, it may be stored in the freezer, and then put on the counter to soften for a few hours before using.

How to soften

If it has already gotten hard, don't despair. Place a piece of apple or bread in a container with the brown sugar and seal it for about two days - it should be soft. If you are baking and you need it right away, you can do one of two things:

• Place it in a 250-degree oven on a baking sheet for a few minutes. As it softens, stir it around and check frequently until it's soft, but be careful not to melt it.

• Put it on a plate and place it in the microwave beside a small bowl of water. Microwave for about 1 minute, and check to see if it's soft. If it isn't, do it every few seconds until it's the right consistency.

Using light or dark

There aren't any hard and fast rules about using them. The dark sugar has more molasses, so it has a more pronounced molasses flavor. Depending on the recipe, this could make a difference in the overall taste. So it's mostly a matter of personal preference, and either one can be used in a recipe.

What is the difference between the two?

The only difference between them is the amount of molasses they contain. Dark sugar has more molasses and deeper flavor. This may or may not make a difference if you use it in place of light sugar in your recipes, as it depends on your individual taste. For instance, you may not like a pronounced taste of molasses in your chocolate chip cookies, but it would taste great in baked beans.

Substituting white sugar

If you are baking and discover you don't have any brown sugar, in some cases it's possible to use white sugar, but there will be a difference in the taste of the food. You wouldn't want to use white sugar in foods like baked beans, because it would be too sweet. Ordinarily it's better not to make a substitution unless you want to experiment.

Substituting brown for white

It may be substituted for white sugar in a recipe, making the food a little more moist and giving it a kind of butterscotch flavor. Once again, it's a matter of taste.

Making brown sugar

It's really easy to make your own.To one cup white sugar, add one tablespoon molasses for light brown sugar, or two tablespoons for dark. Stir and mix thoroughly, and then store in an airtight container or zip lock bag. This can be made in larger quantity so you can keep it on hand.

Can it get stale?

It doesn't mold or change flavor, so it can be kept for long periods on your pantry shelf as long as you store it properly.

Packing it

Have you ever wondered why brown sugar is packed into the cup when being measured? The sugar grains are a little sticky and air gets trapped in the grains. Pressing the sugar into the cup flattens the air bubbles, making the correct amount of sugar. It also ensures the right amount of sweetness.

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