The season for making holiday cookies is fast approaching, which means many people are about to use their baking supplies for the first time all year. If you haven't opened your box of brown sugar since last December, it's likely solidified into a brick by now. Hardened sugar isn't easy to bake with, but it is still edible. Using this simple trick, you can bring this ingredient's soft, more malleable texture back in minutes.

According to MarthaStewart.com, the fastest way to soften brown sugar is in the microwave. Add your sugar brick to a microwave-safe bowl and cover it with a damp paper towel. Heat it for 20 seconds at a time, then open the microwave door to check the consistency at each interim. When you're able to scoop the sugar with a spoon, you can remove it from the microwave and use it in your recipe.

Brown sugar is just white sugar mixed with molasses, and over time the moisture in the molasses dries up. This causes the sugar granules to congeal together into a tooth-shattering lump. Sugar that feels hard as a rock hasn't gone bad, however. The microwave method works because it reintroduces the moisture the ingredient lost. As the wet paper towel heats up, it lets off steam that softens the brick back to a sand-like texture.

Another way to deal with this common source of baking frustration is to prevent your brown sugar from hardening in the first place. When you've finished baking, store your sugar in an airtight bag or container with a slice of bread at the bottom. Make sure to squeeze out any excess air before sealing it. The lack of air combined with the extra moisture from the bread should hopefully keep the brown sugar soft until next baking season.

[h/t Martha Stewart]