Quote of the day: Fred Vultee on the usual suspects

Wayne State journalism prof. Fred Vultee is always good for a line when it comes to the depraved weasels at Fox News:

Outrage appears to have a lot more to do with who you are than with the scale of your setback. There’s much more to digest in the past few days’ events, but if you’re trying to figure out whether the knobs on the fear amplifier really do go up to 11, Fox is always a good place to start.

— “Today in Kenyan Muslim Perfidy“, 2015-11-17

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Recipe quick takes: Emily Luchetti’s Pumpkin Upside-down Cake

My last cake before a travel-induced hiatus for the rest of November was “Pumpkin Upside-down Cake with cranberry-pecan topping” from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Desserts (Chronicle Books, 2003; p. 120). This is a really easy and simple baking-powder-leavened cake, made by the muffin method, with the added twist of a very sweet cranberry-pecan topping. My regular taster who complains about things being too sweet was not around when I brought this cake into work, and everybody else liked it, even though I thought that it was underbaked. People particularly commented that the sweetness of the brown-sugar syrup was a nice balance to the tartness of fresh cranberries. Let’s see how it went together:

Mise en place
The parts list for this cake is really short and simple: two sticks (225 g) of unsalted butter, 7½ oz (210 g) of brown sugar, 4 oz (110 g) of toasted, chopped pecans, and two cups (approximate measure) of fresh cranberries make up the topping. For the cake, the wet ingredients are 9½ oz (270 g) of pumpkin purée, two large eggs, and 90 ml of vegetable oil; the dry ingredients are 6⅜ oz (180 g) of all-purpose flour, 200 g of granulated sugar, 1½ tsp of baking powder, 1 tsp of cinnamon, and ¼ tsp of salt.

Cranberries and pecans on brown-sugar sauce
Since this is an upside-down cake, the topping goes into the bottom of a 9×9-inch (23×23 cm) pan before the cake batter is spread on top. The topping is made with a brown-sugar-butter syrup (just brown sugar — or dark muscovado, which is what I used — whisked into melted butter until fully combined); this syrup is just poured as-is into the pan, and then the cranberries and pecans (having been mixed together) are distributed evenly onto the syrup. There’s no need to actually mix the syrup with the other topping ingredients.

Eggs, oil, and pumpkin
To make the cake batter, we start by whisking all the dry ingredients together, then doing the same with the wet ingredients (shown here — oil, pumpkin, and eggs, but unusually, not sugar). The dry ingredients are carefully mixed into the wet, stopping when there are no visible dry pockets.

Cake batter spread on top of cranberry-pecan mixture
This cake batter is fairly viscous, and must be spread across the topping already in the pan to cover completely. I just used a spatula (and a few judiciously applied fingers) for this.

Baked cake cooling on rack
The cake is baked in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 35–40 minutes. I took it out after 35 minutes, because my tester seemed to suggest that it was done, but in retrospect I think it could have used closer to 40 minutes. After cooling on the rack to 10–15 minutes, it’s time to invert — and therein lies a problem: I don’t have any 9\sqrt{2} = 12\frac{3}{4} inch diameter platters!

Cake after inverting into half-sheet pan
The only vessel I had that was large and flat enough to serve this cake was a plain half-sheet pan, which I lined with a sheet of parchment to ease clean-up. Luchetti’s headnote says “Makes 8 to 10 servings”, but that would have been a whopping 700 kcal per serving, so I cut it into 16 pieces (2¼#x2033 squares) instead — and of course several of my tasters decided that those fairly small pieces were too big and cut them into even smaller bits. (Seriously, if you don’t actually want any, please just say “no thanks”!) And yes, the white balance is a little screwy in this photo.


Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/16 of a 9×9″ cake
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 352 Calories from fat 198
% Daily Value
Total Fat 22g 34%
 Saturated Fat 8g 41%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 53mg 18%
Sodium 102mg 4%
Potassium 30mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 37g 12%
 Dietary fiber 2g 8%
 Sugars 27g
Proteins 3g 6%
Vitamin A 9%
Vitamin C 3%
Calcium 5%
Iron 6%
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Started posting some cycling stuff

I had hoped to put up a blog category of cycling-related stuff, but unfortunately WordPress.com does not allow the <iframe> elements that I need to display my Garmin Connect activities, so I’ve had to do it old-school on my personal Web server instead. Right now I only have stuff related to the the ride I took today, but I’ll be adding additional content as I have the time and inclination. (I’ll try to remember to post here when I do!)

UPDATE: Added yesterday’s trip to Holliston, Medway, Millis, and Sherborn as well.

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Recipe quick takes: King Arthur Flour’s whole-wheat pumpkin bread

If you read the last installment, you’ll recall that I had to do a bunch of shuffling of my baking schedule as a result of a critical ingredient not being available. As a result, I ended up moving a pumpkin cake recipe that I was planning to do for Thanksgiving week up three weeks, to this coming weekend. It calls for a cup of pumpkin, and that sent me scurrying to find other recipes that I could use the rest of that bag of frozen pumpkin purée — you see, a cup of pumpkin is about 9½ ounces, but most pie recipes call for 15 ounces (the modern standard can size) or a whole pound (the old standard can size, and thus the weight I use when putting up my own homemade pumpkin purée). I thought I had found a recipe that used ¾ cup, which would have been close enough, but on rereading I decided that it was too involved, and went to look for another recipe. I ended up doing the pumpkin bread recipe from King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking (Countryman Press, 2006; p. 51), but that also calls for a cup of pumpkin — so I had to thaw a second package of purée anyway! We’ll see what I can manage to do with the remaining 13 ounces. In the mean time, here’s a quick review of this excellent quickbread:

Mise en place
This bread is made by the creaming method, starting with a stick (110 g) of butter, 1¾ oz (50 g) of granulated sugar, and 7½ oz (215 g) of brown sugar; I used India Tree brand dark muscovado for the brown sugar, which brings a wonderful molassesey moistness to pretty much everything. The other wet ingredients are three large eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla, and the aforementioned cup (9½ oz, 270 g) of homemade pumpkin purée. On the dry team, it’s 100% whole-wheat flour, half a pound (225 g) of it, along with a teaspoon of baking soda, half a teaspoon each of baking powder and salt, the usual spices (½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp cloves, and ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg), three ounces (85 g) of chopped nuts — I used pecans, toasted of course — and 4½ ounces (130 g) of dried fruit. Since it is that time of year, I chose to use dried cranberries for my fruit, but you could use raisins or dried cherries instead.

Creamed butter and dark muscovado
This quickbread is made, as I said, by the creaming method, and one stick of butter is just not enough to cream in the stand mixer, so I got out my hand mixer and creamed the butter alone (this involved some swapping of containers) before adding the sugars and beating well. One downside of the dark muscovado is that it can be a bit lumpy — I generally find that the lumps bake out just fine, but it can be a bit disconcerting to look down in the bowl and see all these brown lumps interrupting your nice creamed butter-and-sugar mixture.

Butter, sugar, and egg mixture
The three eggs are added, one at a time, scraping the bowl between each addition, along with the vanilla. At this point, it looks as much like a cookie batter as a bread dough, although with three eggs it has more water and less fat than most cookies.

Now with added pumpkin!
Because the dark muscovado is so dark, it’s not that easy to tell that the pumpkin purée has been added. At this point, the flour, leaven, and spices are sifted together in another bowl, then carefully mixed in — I put down the hand mixer and just folded with a spatula — followed by the nuts and dried fruit. The dough, although thicker, is still pourable at this point, and it is baked in a prepared 9×5-inch (230 mm×130 mm) loaf pan at 350°F (175°C) for about an hour, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Baked and cooled loaf of pumpkin bread
After cooling in the pan for about 20 minutes, the pumpkin bread is depanned and allowed to cool completely on a wire rack; this is important to ensure that the crust doesn’t get soggy. (If you like soft, sticky crusts, by all means leave it in there, but I prefer some texture.) You might think this bread was overbaked by the way it looks on the outside, but that’s really a result of the dark brown sugar. Once cool, it can be wrapped in a clean tea towel until ready to portion and serve.

Sliced pumpkin bread in Tupperware container
Of course for me, “portion and serve” means “pack up to bring to work and feed my colleagues” — which is just what I did. The recipe headnote says that it makes 16 servings, and I think that’s pretty reasonable. Rather than trying to cut 16 even, thin slices crosswise, I chose instead to slice the loaf in half lengthwise, and then cut 8 crosswise slices, giving the appearance of a more substantial serving (so much so that several tasters wanted to cut my pieces in even smaller chunks).

Pumpkin bread on cutting board, showing cross-section
I think both the pecans and the dried cranberries were fabulous here, adding just the right amount of texture, and the perfect complement to the molasses flavor of the dark muscovado and the hearty whole-wheat flour. I did not receive a single negative comment on this one, not even from tasters I know to be fussy and exacting. Highly recommended.


Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/16 of a 9×5″ loaf
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 235 Calories from fat 99
% Daily Value
Total Fat 11g 16%
 Saturated Fat 4g 21%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 50mg 17%
Sodium 198mg 8%
Potassium 41mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 34g 11%
 Dietary fiber 3g 12%
 Sugars 21g
Proteins 4g 7%
Vitamin A 16%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 4%
Iron 6%
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Recipe quick takes: Zoe Nathan’s Chocolate Banana Walnut Cake

This past weekend, I was supposed to be doing Black Chocolate Stout Cake from Ovenly, but Black Chocolate Stout wasn’t available the weekend before, so I had to change my plans. As it turns out, it won’t be available until mid-November (when I’ll be traveling anyway), so I had to change plans even more extensively, but let’s not get ahead of matters. The easiest thing to do was to simply move up the cake I was planning on for next weekend, “Chocolate Banana Walnut Cake” from Zoe Nathan’s Huckleberry (Chronicle Books, 2014; p. 86) — but of course I had to make that decision two weekends ago, so that the eight bananas the recipe calls for would have time to ripen. Here’s how it went:

Mise en place
We start as usual with the mise en place. The pie plate at right contains the mashed remains of five bananas; the other three fruit would be sliced up to go on top of cake right before baking, so I haven’t even peeled them yet. The other wet ingredients are 100 g of sugar, two large eggs, a stick (112 g) of unsalted butter, one cup (240 ml, or about 1½ standard 170 g containers) of plain whole-milk yogurt, and two teaspoons of vanilla. On the dry team, we have 130 g of all-purpose flour, 90 g of traditional (red) whole-wheat flour, 30 g of almond meal, half a tablespoon each of baking powder and soda, a teaspoon of kosher salt, 130 g of chopped dark chocolate (I used Valrhona Manjari), and 60 g of toasted, chopped walnuts (I used black walnuts).

Butter and sugar before creaming
The recipe calls for creaming the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer, but the amount of both is so small that my stand mixer’s paddle would barely make contact, so I used a hand mixer instead. This cake certainly doesn’t need to be mixed in a six-quart bowl.

All the wet ingredients mixed
After creaming, the recipe would have you dump all the rest of the ingredients in at once, or so it reads to me at least. I took a more judicious approach, adding all of the remaining wet ingredients, so I could still use the electric mixer, before folding in the dry ingredients (salt and leavening having been previously mixed with the flours).

Fully mixed cake batter
After folding the dry team into the wet, the cake batter is ready to pan up. Nathan suggests a variety of different pan formats in the recipe headnote, but the instructions are written for a ten-inch (25 cm) round cake pan, so that’s what I used. I used baking spray to adhere a parchment round to the bottom of the pan, then coated the entire pan with more baking spray for a clean release. Before baking, the remaining three bananas are sliced crosswise and arranged atop the batter, then sprinkled with an additional two tablespoons of sugar. The cake was baked in a 350°F (160°C) oven for just over an hour — the recipe gives an overprecise figure of 65 minutes — until a tester came out clean.

Baked cake, cooling in pan, showing overflow
The cake cools for about 15 minutes in the pan, so that the starches have time to set up. You can see that the cake batter overflowed slightly (I wish I had remembered to take a picture of the unbaked batter so you could compare), but it didn’t make too much of a mess. As the cake cooled it pulled away from the side, but I gave it a bit of help with a paring knife to ensure that it wouldn’t stick anywhere and crack.

Inverting cake onto board
After 15 minutes of cooling, I inverted the cake onto a parchment-wrapped cutting board. Nathan says to carefully remove the parchment from the bottom, but I found that the parchment stuck to the pan when I pulled it off, saving me the effort. (The baking spray probably helped.) Some of the tasters would have preferred a bit less browning on the edges and bottom; these lightweight anodized-aluminum cake pans transmit heat rather too well.

Finished cake, right side up, on cake stand
After removing the pan, one more flip was required to put the cake right-side-up on my cake stand.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of an individual slice to show you, as I was in a hurry to get to work Monday morning and didn’t pre-slice the cake like I usually do. I can tell you that the crumb was coarse, reminiscent of a quickbread, but very tasty. The chocolate chunks settled, for the most part, around the bottom and edges of the cake, which turned some tasters off; one taster complained about the banana slices on top. I felt the walnuts were probably wasted here: I certainly didn’t notice them, despite the fact that I had used black walnuts, which normally have a very distinctive flavor. Sue Felshin commented that she would have preferred banana-walnut cake, or chocolate-banana cake, but didn’t think the combination of all three was very successful.


Based on using Valrhona Manjari 64% for the chocolate chunks.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/12 of a 10″ cake
Servings per recipe: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 396 Calories from fat 171
% Daily Value
Total Fat 19g 30%
 Saturated Fat 9g 44%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 54mg 18%
Sodium 341mg 14%
Potassium 393mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 54g 18%
 Dietary fiber 6g 23%
 Sugars 28g
Proteins 8g 16%
Vitamin A 7%
Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 8%
Iron 4%
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Recipe quick takes: Joanne Chang’s Double Chocolate Whoopie Pies

Snap quiz: What do you do when you have leftover crème fraîche you don’t know what to do with? There aren’t as many options as you’d think, at least not until you start doing serious recipe development (ok, how much buttermilk plus butter can you swap out for an ounce of crème fraîche?) so the obvious answer is, “Look at a Joanne Chang cookbook and see if there’s a recipe that calls for the exact amount you have left over (or close enough to it).” You can, of course, use your leftover crème fraîche to make more crème fraîche — perhaps if you’re looking for some homemade butter that would be a good option, so long as you’re sure what you’ve got has the right bacterial cultures in it (and they’re still alive). But Joanne Chang uses crème fraîche a lot, so you can pretty much always find a recipe that combines it with a bunch of pantry ingredients to make something tasty. So it was for me, after making her Midnight Chocolate Cake (which calls for only a small amount of crème fraîche) — despite being already cultured, the stuff still doesn’t keep forever, so I had probably not more than a month to use the rest of it.

That brought me to Baking with Less Sugar (Chronicle Books, 2015). My issues with the misconception underlying this cookbook have been discussed in previous articles, and readers would do well to take into consideration that Chang doesn’t actually mean “baking with less sugar”, she means “baking with less granulated sugar called out as an explicit ingredient“, which is of no great virtue. Still, there’s nothing wrong with these recipes, so long as you don’t confuse them for dietetic products — 17 grams of sugar is 17 grams of sugar, regardless of whether you put it in yourself or Valrhona puts it in at the chocolate factory. Thus we come to “Double Chocolate Whoopie Pies” (p. 72), a recipe in which nearly all of the sugar comes from the chocolate which is used to flavor both the cakes and the filling (the rest being from the dairy ingredients). The recipe is very simple, requiring few ingredients beyond a pound of melting chocolate, the usual pantry staples, fresh cream, and the aforementioned crème fraîche. Here is how it goes:

Mise en place for cakes
Each whoopie pie will be a sandwich of two cakes and a simple ganache filling, so we start by making the cakes. (If you’re in a hurry, you should probably start with the ganache instead — it will need to set for several hours until it’s spreadable, which will take longer than the cakes will need to cool.) The wet ingredients are 85 g of unsalted butter, 120 g of crème fraîche, two large whole eggs, two egg yolks, two teaspoons of vanilla, and 280 g of bittersweet chocolate. (I used Valrhona Caraïbe 66% “feves”, or baking discs, which have the benefit of not needing to be further chopped before melting.) The dry team consists of 140 g of all-purpose flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, and half a teaspoon each of baking soda (to neutralize the crème fraîche) and kosher salt.

Chocolate and butter melted together
The first step is to melt the chocolate and butter together, either in a double boiler, or (much simpler) in the microwave. When melting chocolate in the microwave, it’s best to go in 20-to-30-second bursts, then stir, lest hot spots develop — otherwise it’s very likely that some of your chocolate will overheat and burn before it’s all melted. (The double boiler prevents this by uniformly warming the chocolate with the heat of the steam as it hits the bottom of the bowl and condenses, thereby limiting the temperature to the boiling point of water — but it’s still important to stir!)

All of the wet ingredients after mixing
After whisking in all the rest of the wet ingredients, the mixture has become somewhat more glossy; this is primarily a result of the egg whites. The dry ingredients are then stirred or folded in using a spoon or a rubber spatula, and the batter must be allowed to sit at room temperature for about half an hour to thicken and cool to room temperature. While it’s thickening, the baking soda and baking powder are also releasing carbon dioxide into the batter, forming bubbles that will determine the final texture of the cakes.

Last batch of nine cakes
I used a #40 disher to portion out the cakes onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. This gave me 21 cakes in total, which (being an odd number) is one too many — so I ate the extra one. (Chang describes the correct portion as “golf-ball-size”, so I went through all the dishers in my drawer to find the one closest to that size. Dishers are sized by the number of scoops to the quart, so this is 4/5 of a fluid ounce; you can usually find the size stamped or etched on the “sweeper” blade.) They are baked in a 325°F (160°C) oven until “just barely firm when touched in the center”, which for me took 14 minutes.

First batch of twelve cakes, cooling
The first batch of cakes came out of the oven with a rather more irregular surface texture than I was expecting, given both my prior experience with whoopie pies and also the photos in Chang’s book. I wonder if my oven is a bit too hot? (Should have checked my oven thermometer first!)

Now it’s time to make the filling, which is a standard ganache made with 170 g of chocolate (I used the slightly stronger Valrhona Guanaja 70% for this one) and 180 g (¾ cup) of heavy cream. The usual procedure applies: scald the cream, pour over the chocolate, let stand for 30–60 seconds, whisk until smooth, then let cool to room temperature or until the desired consistency is reached. In this case, it needs to be spreadable; if the ganache is applied to the cakes before it has firmed up enough, it will ooze out of the middle of the sandwich rather than forming a stable filling.

Matching cakes of similar size
Once both sheets of cakes have cooled fully on a wire rack, it’s time to prepare them for applying the filling. This mostly means sorting them: for the best sandwich effect, you want the filling to stay on the inside, which means finding cakes that are very nearly the same size and shape on the bottom. I arrayed them all on my cutting board and then swapped the mismatches until I was happy with the result.

Ten assembled whoopie pies
Using an offset spatula, spread the ganache between two cakes and press together to adhere. This recipe makes ten whoopie pies, although I had a couple tablespoons of leftover ganache (<burp>) to go along with my one extra cake.

A single whoopie pie
The result says more “sandwich cookie” to me than what I’m used to in a whoopie pie: commercial bakery whoopie pies (which seem to all be pumpkin-flavored this time of year) are more muffiny in texture, and the cakes are moist and sticky on the outside while still being crumbly and friable when you bite into them. These, on the other hand, are much drier, both outside and in, and more tender, but have a far richer filling than the usual hyper-sweet frosting than is usual for a bakery whoopie pie. So I’d say there are upsides and downsides to Chang’s version here. I wouldn’t mind doing a side-by-side with her “Oreo” sandwich cookies (how has she not gotten sued by Mondelez yet?), which aren’t anything like the real Oreos in anything but color, but share a lot of textural similarities with these whoopie pies.

As I’m writing this on a Saturday, I haven’t had a chance to share these with my coworkers — that will take at least until Tuesday, which is well before my self-imposed deadline for publishing this post.


Based on using Valrhona Caraïbe 66% for the cakes and Valrhona Guanaja 70% for the ganache filling.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 sandwich
Servings per recipe: 10
Amount per serving
Calories 470 Calories from fat 315
% Daily Value
Total Fat 35g 54%
 Saturated Fat 22g 109%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 114mg 38%
Sodium 184mg 8%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 9%
 Dietary fiber 6g 23%
 Sugars 17g
Proteins 7g 14%
Vitamin A 11%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 7%
Iron 13%
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Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s Boston Cream Pie

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Boston Cream Pie creates a lot of confusion. While it is from Boston, it doesn’t necessarily have any cream in it, and it’s a layer cake, not a pie. Opinions differ greatly on what the cake should be filled with: … Continue reading

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Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s Midnight Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate Buttercream

This gallery contains 16 photos.

When I started my summer baking project last June, I did not expect one recipe to be head-and-shoulders more popular than all the others: Joanne Chang’s “Midnight Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate Buttercream” from Flour (Chronicle Books, 2010; p. 162). I … Continue reading

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Recipe quick takes: Emily Luchetti’s Ricotta Cheesecake with golden raisins and tart cherries

This gallery contains 9 photos.

This was one of two cheesecake recipes I was originally considering making for my grandmother’s birthday back in August. I put this one off indefinitely, but when my travel (or lack thereof) plans became a bit clearer, I added it … Continue reading

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We tasted some chocolate

I’ll have a writeup on Emily Luchetti’s “Ricotta Cheesecake with golden raisins and tart cherries” later this long weekend. In the mean time, I’ve written up the results of a chocolate tasting from Monday. Here’s my conclusion:

This was a difficult contest to judge, and (counting ties) six different products received a first-place vote. The overall winner, with two first-place votes, two second-place votes, and one third-place vote, was TCHO 66% dark chocolate discs. In second, with one first-place vote and three second-place votes was Valrhona Caraibe 66% feves. Third went to the Guittard 66% dark chocolate discs, with one first-place vote and two second-place votes, followed by the same company’s 38% milk chocolate discs, which received two first-place votes, in fourth place. Rounding out the results, Valrhona Guanaja feves came in 5th, Guittard 74% discs came in 6th, the two Mad├ęcasse discs tied for 7th, and the non-chocolate “dark melting discs” from Ghirardelli came in dead last.

You can read excerpts of the tasters’ individual comments on our wiki.

My overall conclusion is that the tasting conditions were less than ideal, because these products (with one or two exceptions) aren’t really made to be eaten out of hand, they are intended to be melted and used either as a flavoring ingredient (as in brownies or ganache) or directly as a glaze to be applied to some other food. If I had a test kitchen of my own, full of trained cooks all ready and eager to do my bidding, I would take one standard recipe for chocolate brownies and one for truffles, and have the staff make both, varying only the chocolate, and then taste the results. (That would imply leaving out my two “ringers”.) Alice Medrich thoughtfully provides the appropriate recipe adjustments for most of this range of chocolates in her book Seriously Bitter Sweet.

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