Keeping Brown Sugar Soft
Okay, there's been a lot of tech coverage here lately, so here's a really basic cooking tip. Heck, it doesn't even directly involve cooking. But if you've done any amount of cooking or baking, you've probably come across rock hard brown sugar. A new brown sugar box comes with sugar in a plastic bag. When you first open it, the sugar is very soft. If you just store your sugar in the opened original bag, it will quickly dry out and become rock hard and useless. Thankfully, this is not permanent. The molasses in the sugar has just dried out, and needs to be re-hydrated. [As an aside, did you know that most brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added back in? It's not "more raw" than white sugar. Dark brown sugar just has more molasses than light brown sugar.] There are a number of different ways to reverse the dehydration, but my favorite are these small terra cotta disks, which you can get for about $3 from various places including Sur La Table and Cracker Barrel:
You soak the disks in water for about 15 minutes, wipe off any excess water, and then place directly into an airtight container with the sugar. Since sugar is hygroscopic, it will slowly grab the water from the soaked terra cotta. It takes about a day for the sugar to become soft again. You could do this in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Better yet, I store my brown sugar in airtight containers and just keep the disk in there the whole time. This keeps the sugar soft for about 3 months. Once the sugar starts getting a little brittle, just re-soak the disk.
I really like the 1.9L Click Clack containers, as you can see from the picture. You can find them at The Container Store, but I've also seen them at grocery stores. These containers are big enough to hold a box or two of brown sugar and are short and squat, rather than tall and thin. This allows easy access, which is especially handy when you want to dig right in with a large scoop. And they stack nicely to boot.