To soften brown sugar, place a cup or so in a glass pie plate or bowl and place a small piece of wax paper right on top of sugar. Top with a slice of bread. Cover bowl loosely with...

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To soften brown sugar, place a cup or so in a glass pie plate or bowl and place a small piece of wax paper right on top of sugar. Top with a slice of bread. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and microwave about 30 seconds, or until softened.

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To soften butter in a hurry, cut into tablespoon-size pieces. The butter should soften in about 15 minutes. If still too cool to begin creaming, place in the bowl of an electric mixer and wrap the outside with a warm, damp towel. Then begin the creaming process.

Form cookie dough into balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. When dough is frozen, transfer to a freezer bag or airtight container. Bake cookies from frozen state, increasing cooking time by about 2 minutes.

Shape thumbprint cookies by pressing the back side of a small melon ball scoop into dough balls before baking.

To make your own colored sugar, sprinkle about ½ cup granulated sugar evenly over the bottom of a pie plate. Add about 5 drops food coloring and mix well. Then push sugar through a fine sieve to distribute color evenly. Spread back on pie plate and let dry.

If you have just one pastry bag and different colored frostings or fillings to pipe, scoop the frosting into a plastic bag, twist the top end of the bag closed and snip a small hole in the bottom. Place filled bag into the pastry bag fitted with a tip and pipe. Remove and repeat with a second frosting.

From “365 Quick Tips” by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.