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Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010's Top 10

Happy New Year!  2010 was a pretty good year for me, although it sure went by quickly.  The year started and ended with lots of travelling, I think we went home to Iowa a half a dozen times this past year.  I also travelled to Texas a couple of times for my sister's wedding festivities, we went to St. Louis to celebrate our own 1st wedding anniversary, and spent a week at the beach in August with my college roommates.  We ended the year travelling for the holidays and a weekend in Chicago to celebrate my mom's birthday.  My husband started a new job this fall and I kept busy throughout the summer and fall with lots of baking jobs making hundreds of cupcakes and several birthday cakes.  

Of course the big news is that we found out we'll be having our first child in 2011, thank you all for sticking around even though it was tough to keep up with this blog when I could barely think about food for the few months.  These last few months have been busy with preparing the nursery, baby showers, and doctors appointments.  Now we're almost there and our daughter should be here mid-February! 

As we all recover from the sugar coma of the holidays, I'll be sharing some recipes from my baby shower, as well as some freezer meals as I try to stock up before the baby arrives.  For now though, I'll leave you with the most popular recipes from 2010.  Evidently the popularity of cupcakes isn't over yet!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spiced Brown Sugar Christmas Cookies

I had to make another batch of Christmas cookies, and since it was my 4th batch of sugar cookies in as many weeks, I decided to go for something a little different this time around.  For the dough, I made a spiced brown sugar cookie dough.  They turned out to be sort of a cross between a gingerbread cookie and a sugar cookie.   They are prepared the same way as traditional roll and cut cookies, making them convenient to do in parts.  You can (and should by at least an hour or two) make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate.  Then when you are ready to bake them, roll out the dough, cut and bake.  This dough is a little bit more particular than my normal sugar cookie dough.  I had to let it sit on the counter about ten minutes before I was able to roll it out.  But don't let it sit out too long, if it becomes too warm, the dough will be sticky. 

For icing, I used royal icing again, you can find the recipe here.  If you are going to color your royal icing, I recommend using gel food colorings.  I especially like the Americolor brand if you can find them; they come in convenient squeeze bottles which is more convenient than the Wilton jars.  Around here, I can find Wilton at several different places but can only get the Americolor at Hobby Lobby or online.  If you try to use the normal liquid food colorings, it will change the consistency of your icing or you wont be able to add enough to get saturated colors.  If you are having trouble finding meringue powder, check out a craft store like Michaels or Hobby Lobby - again, I can only find the Wilton brand.  You may also be able to find it at large grocery stores, sometimes in the baking aisle and sometimes it's in a craft section if you are at a store like Walmart or Meijer. 

This is my first attempt at marbling with royal icing so I'll tell you what I did and recommend that you google a tutorial -- Bridget from Bake at 350 has tips and so does Marian of Sweetopia.  To do the peppermint candies, I outlined and flooded my cookies like normal, doing about a dozen cookies at a time.  I then used the red outline consistency icing in a piping bag with a Wilton tip #3 to pipe a swirl onto the center of the candy.  I gently tapped the cookies to let the swirl settle into the flood icing.  Then used a toothpick to drag through the swirl to create the marble effect. 

Spiced Brown Sugar Cookies
Recipe slightly adapted from Bake at 350

3 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 1/2  tsp vanilla extract

Combine flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl and whisk to combine.  In a mixing bowl, cream sugar, brown sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Add egg and vanilla and beat until well incorporated.  Slowly add flour mixture, mixing on low speed.  The dough will be very stiff.  Lay out a large sheet of plastic wrap and turn dough out on to plastic.  Form into a disk and wrap tightly.  Chill approximately one hour. 

Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand five to ten minutes at room temperature.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.  Generously flour work area and rolling pin.  Roll dough to about 1/4" thick and cut into desired shapes.  Transfer to prepared pans and bake about 9-12 minutes.  Cookies shouldn't really brown but will firm up.  Remove from the oven, let stand about one minute on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  When completely cool, frost as desired.

See other examples here:
Thanksgiving cookies
Christmas Cookies
Gingerbread Snowflakes 
More Christmas Cookies

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rasberry Pochettes

These are a simple little treat with an indulgent cream cheese crust filled with jam.  You can use whatever flavor you have on hand, I thought the raspberry would be pretty and it's one of my favorite flavors of jam.  That and my husband won't use it for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so we weren't out of it when I went to make these.  Use jelly or preserves for these, it doesn't matter.  I prefer preserves so that's what I used here.

I used a flower cookie cutter to cut these out because I liked the rounded edges and added decoration.  You can use any shape you like or a simple 3" round cookie cutter.  One thing to note, with the flower cookie cutter, you'll have more leakage because the edges won't line up quite as perfectly as a round cut-out would.  I recommend baking these on parchment paper so you don't end up with a sticky mess of burnt jelly to clean up when you are done. 

Raspberry Pochettes
Recipe adapted from Melissa D'Arabian via Food Network

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
Approximately 1/2 cup raspberry jam
1 egg white
Sanding sugar

Combine butter and cream cheese in a mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Slowly add the flour and salt, beating on low speed until just combined.  Lay out a large sheet of plastic wrap and turn the dough out onto the plastic.  Form into a disk, wrap tightly and refrigerate at least one hour. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Generously flour your work surface and a rolling pin.  Roll out the dough to about 1/8" thick.  Cut out rounds or shapes as desired.  Add about a half a teaspoon of jam to one side of each cookie.  Brush the edges lightly with water.  Fold the dough over and press to seal.  Crimp the edges with a fork.  Re-roll scraps and continue with remaining dough. 

Beat egg white with approximately one tablespoon of water, brush over cookies and sprinkle cookies with sanding sugar.  Bake until golden, about 18 - 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely and serve. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Peanut Butter Fudge

If candy-making intimidates you, this is the perfect recipe for you to try.  You don't even need your stove, no thermometers are involved, you barely need a pan.  This fudge can be made completely in the microwave and only takes about five minutes.  It's a perfect recipe to round out your holiday baking when you are short on time. 

Peanut Butter Fudge
Recipe via Erin's Food Files from Alton Brown

1 cup of butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb powdered sugar

Prepare a pan by covering it in wax paper and spraying with nonstick cooking spray, leaving at least one inch overhang of wax paper around all edges.  You can use an 8x11" baking sheet with a one inch rim or an 8x8" square pan if you want thicker fudge. 

In a microwave safe bowl, combine butter and peanut butter.  Microwave on high two minutes, stir and microwave two additional minutes.  Stir in vanilla and powdered sugar.  Mix with a wooden spoon until well combined and smooth.  Pour into prepared pan, smooth, and cover with another sheet of wax paper pressed directly against the surface of the fudge.  Refrigerate at least two hours and cut into one inch squares.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rocky Road Fudge

Fudge is a classic Christmas dessert but not one I have a ton of experience with.  I've made a couple of different types in the past and found it to be much easier than I expected and this recipe ended up being very easy as well.  The most time consuming part is chopping up the chocolate.  

If you haven't finished your Christmas baking yet, here are some other candy recipes you may be interested in.

And check back tomorrow for Peanut Butter Fudge!

Rocky Road Fudge
Recipe slightly adapted from Dinner and Dessert

18 oz semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
14 oz (1 can) sweetened, condensed milk
1 T vanilla extract
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Line an 8x11 inch baking sheet with aluminum foil leaving at least 1" overlap on all sides.  You want to use a baking sheet that has at least a 1" high rim.  Spray foil with nonstick spray.

Set up a double boiler with a couple inches of water over medium heat.  In a heat proof boil or double boiler, toss chopped chocolate with baking soda and salt until well distributed.  Stir in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.  Set bowl over simmering water, making sure that bowl doesnt touch the water.  Stir continuously with a rubber spatula until chocolate is almost fully melted.  It will likely take about 2-4 minutes to melt, remove bowl from heat when there are just a few remaining pieces and stir until smooth. 

Stir in marshmallows, peanuts, and chocolate chips.  Mixture will be quite thick.  Quickly transfer mixture to prepared pan and smooth into an even layer.  Refrigerate until set, at least two hours.  Use foil overhang to remove fudge from pan, peel off foil and chop into approximately 1" square pieces. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Butterscotch Pumpkin Blondies

Do you still have an extra can or two of pumpkin in your pantry from Thanksgiving?  Or maybe you're like me and you buy a dozen cans as soon as it hits the shelves so that you don't run out.  I'm down to three cans and thinking I should pick up a few more because I really don't accept that I can only use pumpkin in the fall.  Especially when I can make things like these blondies.  These are so rich and delicious and they are easy to make as well. 

The original recipe called for chocolate chips but I think the butterscotch is a better combination.  You could use white chocolate if you prefer as well. 

Butterscotch Pumpkin Blondies
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9x13 pan with foil and spray with baking spray. 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, soda, and salt and whisk together and set aside.  In a second mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes.  Beat in egg, vanilla and pumpkin.  Mixture may appear slightly curdled at this point but its okay.  Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated.  Stir in butterscotch chips. 

Spread batter in prepared pan and smooth out the top with a rubber spatula.  Bake about 35-40 minutes until edges begin to pull away from side of pan and toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.  Cool completely in the pan.  Invert out of pan onto wire rack, peel off foil, cut into squares and transfer to a serving plate.

Note: As per FTC requirements, the butter in this dish was provided by Real Butter, as part of a Tastemaker promotion sponsored by Real Butter for holiday baking.  I received a gift package of butter and holiday baking supplies.  However, the opinions above are strictly mine and are not affected by this promotion.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sugar Cookies for Christmas

Frosted sugar cookies are a staple on almost everyone's Christmas baking list.  I've made them lots of different ways over the years but my favorite recipe is this one.  These cookies bake up without changing shape so its easy to see the details from the cookie cutter.  They stay fresh for quite a while and don't turn rock hard as long as you keep them in an airtight container.  The almond and vanilla extracts give them great flavor without being too sweet. 

Royal icing is necessary if you want cookies that you can decorate in layers and it dries hard so you can stack the finished cookies without ruining them.  Royal icing requires a little practice but it's pretty quick and easy once you get the hang of it.  The recipe below will give you the right consistency to outline your cookies.  I generally use a piping bag and a Wilton tip #2 or #3 to outline my cookies.

Once you've outlined the cookies, thin the icing by adding a little bit of water (a teaspoon or less) at a time until it reaches the consistency of a thick syrup.  In my opinion, the easiest way to fill in the cookies is to fill a squeeze bottle with the thinned icing and flood the cookies, using a toothpick to pop any air bubbles and spread icing out to the outline.  You'll want to let the outlines dry for about an hour minimum before you fill them in.  Then let the thinned icing dry overnight before stacking the cookies and packaging.

Sugar Cookies
Recipe slightly adapted from Annie's Eats

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling out cookies

Cream butter in a large mixing bowl on medium high speed, about two minutes.  Add powdered sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add in egg, almond and vanilla extracts, and salt and mix until well incorporated.  Add in flour and beat on low speed just until mixed.  Transfer dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, form into a disc and wrap well.  Refrigerate dough for at least one hour. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats.  Flour counter to roll out cookies.  Also flour rolling pin.  Roll to approximately 1/4" thick and cut with cookie cutters as desired. Transfer cookies to prepared pans and bake about 8 - 10 minutes.  Cookies should not brown.  Gather scraps and re-roll.  If dough becomes sticky, return to refrigerator briefly before rolling.  Recipe yields about 4 dozen cookies depending on size of cookie cutters. 

Royal Icing
Recipe from Bake at 350

4 T meringue powder
Scant 1/2 cup water
1 lb powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp corn syrup
1/4 tsp almond extract

Combine water and meringue powder in mixing bowl.  You can make royal icing without a stand mixer but its a lot easier with one, your arm will get tired with a hand mixer!  Beat until slightly foamy.  Add powdered sugar, corn syrup and extract, beat on low speed until combined.  Increase speed to medium high and beat about five minutes until stiff peaks form and icing is glossy.  Divide icing into small containers to color.  Add gel coloring as desired and press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the icing and cover with a lid. 

To do the shimmery snowflakes, I added sanding sugar over the thinned icing after letting the cookies stand about five minutes.  For the Christmas trees, I let the flood icing dry completely before piping on the swirl lines with the original outline icing.  If you leave the outline icing in the piping bag, make sure you cover it with a damp towel to keep it from drying out.

This recipe should be enough for the above cookie recipe unless you need to use lots of colors/layers of icing. 

See other examples here:
Thanksgiving cookies
Christmas Cookies
Gingerbread Snowflakes

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Classic Apple Pie

Apple pie intimidates a lot of people.  Despite looking relatively simple and ordinary, it can be tricky to get the filling to have the right consistency.  You want the filling to be thick but not dry, if its too liquidy the crust will be soggy.  You want to be able to see the apple slices; tender but not mushy.  You want the crust to be flaky and tender, not dense and dry.  I'm by no means an expert on apple pie, but here are a few tips that have worked for me. 

Apples: Get a mix of apples, that way you are likely to have some of the best characteristics of each variety.  I like granny smith, pink lady, and honeycrisp.  Try to cut them all into slices of uniform thickness so they cook at the same rate.  Sprinkle the lemon juice on the sliced apples right away, if its going to take you a while to slice them, sprinkle some on the cut slices as you go.

Thickening agent: I use cornstarch rather than flour, you can use either but I prefer cornstarch as I think it works better. 

Filling: Mix your filling together and let it sit for a bit while you prepare the crust.  The sugars will draw some of the juices out of the apples and allow the cornstarch to work it's magic.  It's going to look like you have too much filling but you really want to pile it up high because the apples are going to shrink when you bake your pie and you don't want to have a hollow crust.  I always like to use a deep dish pie plate for apple pie.  Also make sure you put a cookie sheet under your pie pan when you put it in the oven.  There will almost always be a spot where the filling leaks out and bubbles over, it's much easier to clean up a cookie sheet than a sugary burned apple syrup off the bottom of your oven.

Crust: Use cold butter, really, really cold butter.  You can freeze it and grate it with a cheese grater or your food processor.  If you don't want to do that, cut it into small pieces and then return it to the refrigerator/freezer.  You want the pieces of butter to remain when you roll out the dough, its those streaks of butter that lead to an extra flaky crust.

I'm not sure of the source of this recipe for the filling, the crust is from Martha Stewart Baking.  If you don't have a food processor, you can mix the pie crust by hand or in a stand mixer as well, I just think the food processor is the easiest.  And if the crust intimidates you, pick up a package of the refrigerated pie dough, all you have to do is unroll it and it's pretty good.

Apple Pie

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold
4 T ice water plus more if needed
1 egg white

Approximately 3 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced into uniform thickness
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1-2 T cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 T unsalted butter

Grate or cut cold butter into small pieces and freeze for about 15 minutes.  In bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt.  Pulse a couple of times to combine.  Add the butter pieces and pulse about 10-12 times until the mixture becomes coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle the ice water over the mixture and process about 20 seconds, the dough will clump up and begin to hold together.  If the dough appears too dry, add more water, one teaspoon at a time and pulse briefly until the dough sticks together when you pinch it between your fingers.  Lay out 2 large sheets of plastic wrap and dump 1/2 of dough out onto each sheet.  Press into a disk, wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour.  (You can do this a day or two in advance if you prefer.)

To make the filling, toss sliced apples with lemon juice and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle about half of the cornstarch over apples.  Add spices and stir gently to combine.  After the mixture sits for a while, if it looks like there is too much liquid, add remaining cornstarch to thicken. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Generously flour rolling surface and rolling pin.  Roll pie crust to about 1/4" thick.  Remember that it needs to be about an inch wider than the diameter of your pie plate plus twice the depth.  Spray pie pan with baking spray.  Carefully move rolled out crust to pie plate.  Fill pie with prepared filling, mounding high above the pie plate.  Dot with remaining butter.  Carefully roll out top crust and center over top of filling.  Press and crimp edges to seal as desired.  Carefully slice 3-4 slits in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape.  Mix egg white with one tablespoon of water and brush pie crust.   

Bake pie for about 50-60 minutes until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.  If the edges begin to look too brown before the pie is ready, cover with foil and continue baking.  Let stand about two hours to set before serving.  Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream both make excellent toppings.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wild Rice and Butternut Squash Dressing

Wow... it has been a busy couple of weeks.  In the past 2 weeks we've travelled to my  parents for Thanksgiving weekend, had two baby showers, 2 prenatal classes, one of my college roommate's was in town to visit, a Christmas party, and our everyday jobs.  That didn't leave a lot of time for blogging.  So I have a stack of recipes to share with you and just need to find some time to post them.  Now if only I could find some time to get my holiday baking started and Christmas shopping done, I might actually catch up a little bit but the next couple of weeks are looking like they will be just as busy. 

Going back to my Thanksgiving recap, I want to share a recipe for wild rice dressing.  My mom isn't really a fan of bread so traditional stuffing recipes don't really appeal to her.  When I saw this recipe in Cooking Light for a wild rice dressing, I thought it would be a great addition to our normal Thanksgiving menu.  I made a few modifications for our own tastes to come up with the recipe below.  I think it turned out great and the leftovers were good as well.

Wild Rice and Butternut Squash Dressing
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, November 2010

1 cup uncooked wild rice
1 cup basmati rice
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 T olive oil
1 cup dried cranberries
5-6 green onions, chopped
2 T fresh sage, minced
2 T flat leaf parsley, minced
1 T fresh thyme, stripped from stems
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large saucepan, combine rice, stock, water and 1/4 tsp salt and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 40 minutes until rice is tender.  Transfer cooked rice to a 9x13 or similar baking dish coated with cooking spray, do not drain. 

While the rice is cooking, toss butternut squash with olive oil and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 tsp salt, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast for approximately 20-25 minutes until tender.  Add to rice in baking dish.

Add cranberries, onions, herbs, and spices to mixture, adding additional salt and pepper as desired.  Stir everything together, cover with foil and bake about 15 minutes until everything is heated through.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pumpkin Roll

While this is a classic recipe, it was one I've never made on my own before.  It's a really impressive dessert, especially when you serve it to people who aren't familiar with it because it looks much more difficult than it is.  I got lots of "oohs and aahs" when I sliced it at Thanksgiving.  This requires less than 20 minutes of baking time.  Everything else is just waiting on cooling and refrigeration.  Give yourself plenty of time to refrigerate though because this is best served cold.  If you want to make it in advance, you can also freeze it. 

The pumpkin part of the recipe is a very thin pumpkin cake -- you'll want to be careful not to overcook this and use the right size pan.  You want a moist cake that will easily roll up.  You need a thin cotton towel as well, preferably one without much texture like a flour sack dishtowel, otherwise your cake will end up with impressions from your towel and your towel may be more likely to leave little cotton fibers on the cake.  Be liberal with the powdered sugar when you sprinkle it on the towel, it's like flouring a counter to roll out pizza dough, you don't want it to stick.  The original recipe also calls for walnuts but I left those out and added a little ginger and nutmeg to the cake.

For the cream filling, it's essentially a thick cream cheese frosting.  I added some maple syrup and vanilla extract for flavoring to mine.  Don't go overboard with the filling.  It doesn't look like a lot when you make it but there will be plenty.  You want to spread it in a thin even layer over the cake.  Once you roll it up, the filling is so rich and creamy that you don't want it to overpower the cake. 

Pumpkin Roll
Adapted from Libby's

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin puree

8 oz cream cheese, softened
6 T unsalted butter, softened
2 T maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar (plus more for towel and dusting)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a 10" x 15" jellyroll pan with baking spray and line with parchment paper, spray parchment paper as well.  (The parchment paper is just extra insurance that you cake will come out of the pan cleanly.)

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices in a large mixing bowl and whisk to fluff and incorporate.  Beat eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl until thick and creamy.  Add pumpkin and beat well.  Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated.  Spread evenly into prepared pan.  Bake 11-15 minutes, rotating halfway through to insure your oven cooks evenly.  The cake should spring back when lightly touched. 

Prepare kitchen towel by sprinkling with about 1/4 cup powdered sugar in a thin layer.  Loosen cake from pan by running a knife around all edges.  Carefully flip cake onto towel and peel off parchment paper.  Gently roll cake and towel up together and transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Let cool completely before assembling.

For filling, beat together cream cheese and butter about 2-3 minutes until smooth.  Add syrup and vanilla and beat until combined.  Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, increase speed to medium high and whip until light and fluffy.  Set aside until cake is cooled.

To assemble, carefully unroll cake.  Quickly spread a thin layer of filling evenly over the cake and re-roll cake without the towel.  Wrap cake in a double layer of plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.  Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. 

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