The Tiny $5 Tool Every Baker Needs

published Nov 12, 2019
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Credit: Christine Han/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Perhaps the coolest gift I received last Christmas is made of clay, costs less than $5, and fits in the palm of my hand. Any guesses? Answer: a brown sugar saver. I was dubious that it would actually do what it claimed to do, but I was quickly proven wrong, and now, nearly a year later, I feel it’s my duty to shout it from the rooftops (or at least type about it from my computer).

First, if you’re not familiar, a brown sugar saver is a terra-cotta disc that can not only keep your brown sugar nice and soft, but can also effectively transform rock-hard blocks of brown sugar back into usable, super-soft granules. 

Credit: Jenny McCoy

Upon unwrapping my Christmas present, I put it to work on an extremely solid chunk of light brown sugar, which had been left in an unsealed bag for what I can only guess was months. Why I hadn’t previously tossed this bag (or sealed it correctly in the first place) is perhaps an entirely separate topic, but in any case, it made the perfect candidate for my introductory brown sugar saver experience. Following the instructions that came with the sun-shaped disc, I soaked it in a bowl of water for about 15 minutes, patted it dry, and put it on top of the rock-hard sugar brick. When I checked the bag again the next day, it was as if a kitchen fairy had visited overnight and replaced my old, crusty sugar with a brand-new velvety supply. Sorcery! 

To date, the brown sugar saver has bested all other softening methods I’ve tried, including putting a damp paper towel atop the sugar and microwaving it (not very effective at all), or placing a piece of bread on top (which admittedly works, but also costs me a piece of bread). 

I’m a sporadic baker, and so I’ve learned that this really does keep your sugar soft for months. I continue to be impressed! And that’s why I recently contacted JBK Pottery, a Utah-based company that makes the brown sugar saver (although not exclusively), to learn more about how this small-but-powerful tool works and all of its game-changing abilities. 

How the Brown Sugar Saver Works

The brown sugar saver is pretty simple: It’s just terra-cotta, says Lisela Teichert, owner of JBK Pottery. And terra-cotta, she explains, is porous. 

Because of that porosity, when you soak your sugar saver in water, it absorbs some of that moisture. Then, when you pat the disc dry and put it alongside your dried sugar, it slowly releases some of said moisture into the sugar. Over the course of a day/night, enough moisture is typically released to completely soften the sugar. Science!

Other Uses for the Brown Sugar Saver

Despite its name, the brown sugar saver is good for more than just brown sugar (although, full disclosure, I’ve only personally tested it on sugar). “It’s pretty versatile,” says Kent Teichert, a production worker at JBK Pottery and Lisela’s husband. You can use it to soften foods like marshmallows, crispy cookies, breads, muffins, dried fruits, and fresh herbs and spices, Kent adds.

On top of that, you can also use the brown sugar saver to remove moisture from items. Say, for example, you live in a humid climate that makes your dry spices too moist. In that case, simply pop your saver in the oven at around 200 degrees F for five to 10 minutes. Let it cool slightly and then stash it alongside your spices, says Kent. Before long, they should dry out, he says. 

Tips for Using a Brown Sugar Saver

As mentioned, the brown sugar saver is pretty darn easy to use. If you’d like to use it to moisten sugar (or another food), simply soak the tool in water for 15 minutes, pat it dry (either with a paper towel or dish cloth), and put it in a container or bag alongside whatever you’re attempting to soften, says Lisela. Pro tip: Don’t skip the patting dry step, she adds. Otherwise, the saver might pull the molasses out of the sugar touching the disc and turn that sugar white. (This bleached sugar would still be edible, says Kent, but perhaps not visually appealing.) 

The saver will typically soften goods overnight, but for thicker and/or larger chunks of sugar, it might take more time to work, says Lisela. I experienced this recently when softening a somewhat big bag — only the top half was soft after a night. In that situation, you can either bide your time, or, if you’re eager for soft sugar, consider adding a second saver to speed up the job, Lisela suggests. You could also try breaking the brick in half (if possible) and stashing the saver in the middle. This way, it will release moisture in both directions, she explains. Or, if part of your brick has softened, but another part remains hard, simply brush away the soft stuff and move the saver closer to the hard portion. I used this technique on my aforementioned fairly large supply of sugar, and after a couple days the entire bag was soft.   

Once your sugar is softened, keep the disc in place to ensure your sugar stays soft. Your sugar will likely stay soft between three to six months, depending on how airtight your storage container happens to be, says Lisela. And when it gets hard again? Simply repeat the process. In fact, you can use the same sugar saver for “years and years,” says Lisela. 

If you’re softening any items other than sugar, try to avoid direct contact between the saver and the food, says Lisela, as that will send most of the moisture into whichever part of the item is touching the saver and leave the rest hard. (With a batch of crispy cookies, for example, this could result in one very soft cookie, and lots of still-crispy ones). Both she and Kent suggest storing these items in a wide bag that allows you to leave your food on one side and the sugar saver on the other. 

Lastly, if you want to clean your saver, do so with a scrub brush and warm water — no soap, says Lisela. Again, because the device is porous, you don’t want to accidentally imbue it with a soapy flavor. 

3 Brown Sugar Savers We Love

This holiday season, as you’re hunting for presents, I have a hunch the brown sugar saver might just make the perfect gift.