You gather ingredients to make a batch of comforting chocolate chip cookies, and your brown sugar is a brick! Here are a few solutions…

The fruit that softens: If you can wait a day or so for your brown sugar to unclump, then place a few slices of apple in the bag or whatever container you store it in. Close it tightly and wait. The sugar should soften overnight. Remove the apple once the sugar is ready to use. It might pick up a slight apple fragrance, but we find that quite pleasant.

Helpful bread: In a large resealable container, place your sugar clump and a slice of any bread (white sandwich works best) next to the clump. Seal tightly, and by the end of the day, your sugar should be soft (and you won’t have a fruity flavor, as you might get from the above apple remedy).

Oven method: If you’re in a hurry, put the brown sugar on a rimmed baking sheet and bake it in a preheated 225°F oven for five to 10 minutes—until it’s soft enough to mash to its normal consistency. Keep a close eye after five minutes.

Microwave method: If you need that sugar soft in seconds, turn to your microwave. This is usually our last resort, since the rock-hard sugar can melt in a blink of an eye. Here’s what to do: Place the brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in the plastic. Zap it on high power for 20 seconds. Then test it to see if it’s unclumped. If not, let it go for another five to 10 seconds. Watch closely! It’s so annoying when the corners begin to liquefy.

Always soft sugar: To prevent brown sugar from hardening in the first place, try this—after opening the package, put in a strip of orange zest (about one-inch wide and three-inches long) or a few prunes. Close up the package securely, then store it inside a resealable plastic bag in your cupboard or pantry.

Cold storage: You can also prevent brown sugar from hardening by keeping the package in a resealable plastic freezer bag in the freezer. Don’t forget to label the bag!

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