This is one sweet solution. 
Credit: Getty / Lynne Mitchell

Winter is the time I do most of my big baking projects. Whether it is large batches of cookies to keep in the freezer for entertaining, sweet breads for gifting, or fun desserts for enjoying with friends, cozy blustery days just lend themselves to some of the baking that takes a little bit longer or requires more focus.

Why tips and tricks for baking make such a difference

I don't mind when a baking project gets a bit complicated or fussy for the right reasons: doughs that need time to rest and develop flavor, or detailed decoration work. But as a cook and baker who likes to work clean and efficiently, I can't stand when something that should be a simple part of a recipe takes a lot of time or is hard to accomplish. I love when I can learn little tips and tricks for making some of the minutiae of cooking and baking easier, from spritzing the inside of a measuring cup with nonstick spray before measuring something sticky like honey or molasses or adding a spoonful of the dry mixture to the wet batter to prevent it breaking, to coating pans for chocolate cake with cocoa powder instead of flour to prevent white streaks on the cakes. I love a fast and easy tip that makes my baking simpler and better.

The challenge of chopping sticky stuff for baking

One of the things that can be hard to work with when baking are dried or candied fruits. The very thing that makes them delicious—that sweet flavor and dense chewy texture—also makes them a nightmare for prepping. Whether you are chopping by hand or in a food processor, they stick to each other and the blade, and if you want any consistency, you have to cut up every little piece by hand, which takes forever.

My solution for chopping sticky stuff—a sprinkle of sugar!

Enter my new favorite baking tip. When working with candied or dried fruits or any sticky item that needs to be chopped, sprinkle some of the granulated sugar from the recipe over them before chopping. Just like sprinkling salt on garlic to chop it finely (you're welcome if you didn't know that hack already), sugar will both provide traction for your knife or the processor blade and keep the pieces from sticking back together as you chop them, allowing you to chop them as finely as you need but still keep the pieces separate. 

Whether you are working with candied ginger or prunes, apricots or candied peel, tossing them with a little granulated sugar to chop, and adding a bit more if needed as the pieces get smaller, will give you a fast and smooth prep experience so that you can get on with your baking!

Now back to those cookies! 

By Stacey Ballis and Stacey Ballis