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Tuesday
Dec072010

Tate's-Off: A Tasteoff Featuring Homemade Vs. Purchased Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies

For your consideration: Tate's Bake Shop, in Southhampton, NY. As their website invites, 

If you're in the Hamptons and walk around the charming little Atlantic coast town of Southampton, you'll see a celadon green Victorian structure with white shutters, framed in flowers, that seems to attract people like bees to a hive. It's Tate's Bake Shop, the fairytale culmination of a dream that got started when 11-year-old Kathleen King began baking cookies to sell at her family's farm stand not far out of town.

Sounds pretty idyllic, huh? But wait, there's more: in addition to having a full-fledged retail store, retail mail order business and wholesale division, they also have a cookbook, released a couple of years ago: Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook: The Best Recipes from Southampton's Favorite Bakery for Homestyle Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Muffins, and Breads

And even more recently, they sent me a parcel of samples, containing aforementioned cookbook, as well as a variety of mail-order cookies (in three flavors: macadamia, oatmeal raisin, and their bestselling item, chocolate chip cookies). Now, of course I am thankful for these goodies--I mean, who doesn't love free stuff? But at the same time, every time I receive something like this, the mischievous side of me can't help but cry out to be heard.

And so I decided to put these cookies to the test by doing a taste-off: Tate's Versus Tate's. I made a batch of their bestselling item--the chocolate chip cookies--and then my friend Danny and I did a taste-test of the mail-order version versus the homemade version. Which would win?

Now, I realize that I probably had the home-team advantage here: my cookies would be slightly fresher, warmer, and we both would have known that someone superbly cute had made them. So to level the playing field, I did make sure to fully cool the cookies before serving, and then to lightly warm both specimens on the still-warm oven before serving. The results?

Appearance:

Tate's Mail Order: More perfectly formed than the homemade version, and the chocolate chips must have been different, because they were slightly flatter in this version.

Tate's Homemade: Slightly irregular, but not displeasing in appearance. Also the centers were slightly lighter, probably because if anything I err toward slight underbaking.

Texture:

Tate's Mail Order: Very crunchy--crackery, even.

Tate's Homemade: Crunchy on the outside and mostly through, but lightly chewy in the center even when cooled.

Taste:

Tate's Mail Order: Dry, but not stale--still very buttery, and redolent of brown sugar and deep chocolate flavor.

Tate's Homemade: More moist, even when cooled and crunchy. Pleasingly salty, and although they used less chocolate than the original recipe, they still tasted like they had more chocolate chips. Perhaps uneven distribution? Or perhaps the fact that although they had cooled, they still retained that chocolatey glow of taste from the oven permeations?

All said and done: While it was clear that these were variations of the same cookie, the homemade version definitely won. Obviously, even though I tried to level the playing field, one thing holds true: just-baked cookies always win. There's a certain something that comes from home baking that can't be beat. Nonetheless, I feel as if it might have been a slightly different outcome had we just scored the Tate's mail-order ones on the same day they had been baked.

Final word: Unless you're in the tri-state area and can go to the source, buy the book and make 'em yourself.

Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I used Rodelle--they recently sent me some as a sample and I am very impressed!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpat.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Add the water and vanilla. Mix the ingredients just until combined.
  4. Add the eggs and mix them lightly. Stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Don't overmix the dough.
  5. Drop the cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets using two tablespoons or an ice cream scoop.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges and centers are brown. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
Tuesday
Dec072010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Panaderia Latina Bakery, Vancouver BC

The awesomest part about being a Cake Gumshoe? Discovering totally sweet bakeries all over the world. And, getting sweet tips on new ones to discover from customers and friends.

And here's a sweet tip from CakeSpy Shop customer Charlotte, who recently visited from Vancouver. During her visit she mentioned her love for a sweet spot called Honey, but was kind enough to update me on another favorite:

When I got home I remembered the place right around the corner from my house!! It is a Latin Bakery with some grocery products.

Family run, custard and dulce le leche as far as the eye can see, and huge portions. The apple custard slice is my usual. It could feed two..... The bakery is on Joyce St. in the Collingwood neighbourhood, steps away from the Joyce St. skytrain station.

Well, if you're going to Vancouver, consider this your official tip-off for panaderia paradise!

Panaderia Latina Bakery, 4906 Joyce Street, Vancouver BC.

Panaderia Latina Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Dec072010

CakeSpy's Gift Guide for Bakers on Serious Eats!

Looking for a sweet nothing for the sweet freak in your life? Seek no further: I've assembled a selection of totally sweet things that you should absolutely buy for me--I mean, the baker in your life. From baker's twine in a rainbow of colors to cake stencils to a delightful donut shaped donut maker, you're guaranteed to find a winner.

Check out the full gift guide over at Serious Eats!

Monday
Dec062010

Batter Chatter: Interview with Krystina Castella, Author of Many Awesome Cookbooks

Robot Cookies by Krystina CastellaIn case you hadn't gathered it by all of the recent features on this site centered around Krystina Castella and her books, I'll tell you straight up: Krystina Castella is kind of my cake hero. Well, not just cake: my cookie, cupcake, and popsicle hero too. The thing is, her books aren't merely recipe books--they're thoughtfully and cleverly orchestrated works of art, each one a veritable compendium of creative confectionery ideas in addition to being full of delicious recipes. She's very prolific, too: in the past year alone she's released Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked With Spirits, Wine, and BeerA World of Cake, and Crazy About Cookies: 300 Scrumptious Recipes for Every Occasion & Craving (the latter two within weeks of one another! But this busy lady wasn't too busy to catch up with a sweet spy, and I'm delighted to say that she's just as delightful to talk to as her work is to read:

CakeSpy: First off: what is the last baked good you ate?

Krystina Castella: I had a cinnamon roll this morning! I got it at a great Cuban bakery called Porto's Bakery. They're pretty big, there's a line around the corner all the time.

CS: I just want to tell you, I love the sidebars in your book A World of Cake .

KC: Thank you! Actually the book started with the sidebars--I started writing the recipes around them.

CS: In one beloved sidebar, you mention that there are two types of cake artists--the ones who are cake makers, and also the ones who are inspired by cake. But you seem to  be...well, both! So, which are you?

KC: I think that I am both, but if I had to pick one, I am the one that uses the cake as a medium. When I'm developing recipes I am thinking about designing the cake--the texture and flavor and shape and construction and colors. 

CS: As a designer, is it hard to spend so much time designing something that will be consumed fairly quickly?

KC: Actually, that's something that I love about cake and baking--the product is consumed. I am not much of a consumerist, I don't have a lot of stuff. I think it's a difference between a producer versus a consumer mentality. I get my gratification from creating--once I've made it, I'm already moving on to the next thing. With food, it's nice that you can consume it and then move on!

One of my favorite parts about designing a cake is having the end experience in mind. How do the form and flavor come together to make it what you want it to be? Take wedding cake, for instance. There is a big event about the first slice, but then you don't see the cake afterward--it's put together with dowels and things, and it disappears to the kitchen and comes back sliced. Cupcakes on the other hand stay up the whole time, and you actually see what you get! I think that this may be a contributor to the popularity of cupcakes at weddings.

CS: Speaking of which...what kind of wedding cake did you have?

KC: I had a different flavor for each layer--there was a hazelnut layer, a sponge layer, and there was a fruitcake layer--because traditionally this is the layer from which you take a slice to keep all year. Not many people do this anymore, though.

CS: Speaking of love, you tell a great story about how you froze the popsicle you were eating when your now-husband first called you for a date, and as a sort of good-luck charm kept it for several years in the freezer. What kind of popsicle was it?

KC: It was a pink lemonade popsicle.

CS: It strikes me that your recent release, A World of Cake is not merely a recipe book--it is proof that cake is not merely cake, it is society, culture, life and death...so what does cake mean to you?

KC: To me, the most interesting thing is that it is so common across cultures. It's the one food that you can tie to just about every celebration, everywhere in the world. To me, cakes get me excited every time there's a party. The act of making and sharing a cake is very exciting--and knowing the stories and experiences from various cultural heritages makes it even more interesting.

CS: That is something I love about cake too: it always comes with a story.

KC: And really, that is what inspired the whole book--there was a bake sale where I work, and there were all these cakes: rice cakes, moon cakes, fried cakes, milk cakes...and I was just like "tell me more!" and they always had a story behind them, and they are really connected to these cakes, which is really fun.

CS: You say in A World of Cake that Devil's Food Cake is your favorite to eat...but in your research, what is a cake that really intrigued you?

KC: I think the cakes shaped like hamburger and fries in Japan are pretty funny, the fact that they disguise cakes so that they don't look too feminine so guys can eat them in public without being embarrassed is a riot to me. The other one is the cake made to resemble the spine of the deer / rack of venison cake, which was served when meat was scarce--they made cakes to look like meat to bring liveliness to the celebration, I found these offbeat stories really interesting. It was important to me to include the classic, expected cakes, but also to include these cakes that are kind of "underground" that people don't know about.

CS: Can you tell me a bit more about the process of finding recipes for your book?

KC: I spoke to food historians, food folklorists, and librarians to find cakes, but I also learned a lot from talking to readers from my cupcake book--readers from around the world would become involved in the process. In my process, I feel as if it weren't for these relationships via internet and being able to talk to people all around the world, this book wouldn't have been possible. I learned about the stories that might not have been deemed "important" enough in the past. I was also able to use my students--I teach students from around the world, and there was an outpouring of ideas from them.

CS: Do your students get to benefit from your recipe testing?

KC: Yes, they do! I bring a lot of them into school, or leave them by the coffee cart. 

CS: I'll bet that makes you popular.

KC: Exactly.

CS: You had two books come out in the same month--Crazy About Cookies and A World of Cake. But obviously, the process of creating them takes much longer. So...how long did it take for these books to come about?

KC: A World of Cake took the longest--I got the idea about 7 or 8 years ago, and was thinking about it for a long time, working on the cupcake book, and once that book came out and became popular, I knew that A World of Cake would take a long time, so I did the Pops book, all the while still collecting cake recipes and testing them, and working on a deal with sterling to do a series -- Crazy About Cookies is the second in a series. There are more in the works, one coming out next year--I can't talk about it yet, but from the time I started really editing and researching and working on it, it was three years from beginning to end. I was very involved with very aspect--the design, all the photos, et cetera. I oversee everything.

CS: At the risk of asking an annoying question...how do you it all? Are there more hours in your day than there are in mine?

KC: People are always asking if I have a super-human gene. I don't know--what I do I have always done, I have been developing products since I was ten, making t-shirts and selling them to stores, and then was also on the swim team...was always very active. My full time professorship is 12 hours a week, which allows me a lot of extra time outside of my job to have projects going. But also, I managed a home manufacturing company for 10 years, so I had to become very good at organizing and managing. I'm also pretty good at decision-making and knowing when to move on. I don't have super powers, but I do work a lot. I try to help others through my work with the Design Entrepreneur Network.

CS: In Crazy About Cookies, you mention Girl Scout cookies as one of your gateways into the world of cookies. Do you still eat them?

KC: I do! Although it's sad to me that every year they make fewer and fewer in the box. Now, you have to get like 3 boxes to have the same amount of cookies! One thing that disappoints me is that I'm often buying them from the parents versus from the girls themselves...it's a whole different world. I do find it sad that you don't find kids out there finding the entrepreneurial spirit of selling them, but I still buy them. 

CS: What cookies are you baking for Christmas?

KC: I'm going to make a midcentury gingerbread house, and I just got the idea to make a gingerbread trailer park. Maybe some mobile trailers. For us, the cookies I'll be making are the seven-layer cookies featured in my book. Those are my favorite.

For more of Krystina's work, check out her site here; you can also learn more about her most recent books on their individual sites--here and here.

Monday
Dec062010

Cake Byte: CakeSpy Featured on the Official Twitter Blog!

Did you know that when I was in San Francisco recently, I got to visit a very special and magical place? 

No, it has nothing to do with those tasty mushrooms that the nice gentleman on Haight Street gave me. I'm talking about my trip to the Twitter offices! 

Just as you'd expect, it's very cool inside.

They have lots of adorable decor--Cuppie especially enjoyed the pillow in the lobby, pictured top.

Inside, there are clever riffs on their bird logo all over, several awesome pieces of art (like above) and--how freaking cute is this--people's offices don't have their names on the outside, they have their Twitter handles. So if I worked there, I'd have an office that said @cakespy outside. Doesn't that just kill you?

There was also cake. But that was unrelated to my visit. Turns out, just like real offices (because this one did feel very make-believe, in a good way), they have cake on employee birthdays.

I was totally there!I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Carolyn and Lindsay for a series called "Twitter Tales", in which a variety of Twitter users were asked..."how do you Twitter?", along with being asked about who we follow, our pet peeves on twitter, and secrets for successful twittery (mine: don't give lame updates!).

And--to make the deal even sweeter--I've now officially been called "The Most Adorable Person on Twitter"--by someone who works at Twitter.

That's right, prepare for the internet to explode.

Read the Twitter Tale featuring CakeSpy here!

Saturday
Dec042010

Cake Byte: CakeSpy Feature in The Seattle Times!

Cupcake big, Jessie Small. Photo by John Lok, The Seattle Times

Who knew that drawing pictures of--and writing about--well, cake, could become such a big deal?

Fact: when CakeSpy.com started in the summer of 2007, I thought it would be what I did until I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life, a perfect intersection of my three biggest passions: writing, illustrating, and baked goods.

It never occurred to me that it could be the thing I did. But here we are, over three years later, and it is very much the life I am living, CakeSpy so much my alter ego that I don't notice sometimes when someone has called me "CakeSpy" instead of my real name (it's Jessie, by the way).

So it is incredibly meaningful to have a stunningly written and photographed article appear in the Seattle Times chronicling my oh-so-sweet story. I couldn't have asked for a more talented team to work on it: Rebekah Denn, that keen observer and incredible wordsmith (she's a James Beard award winner, people!), tells the story in such a way that I'm confident it might even explain to my family what I actually do for a living; the photo by John Lok has me feeling the urge to sing "I feel pretty...oh so pretty...". And of course, that famous little pink cupcake called Cuppie (thanks, Sandy!) is always a big presence.

Check out the full article here!

Saturday
Dec042010

My Heart Was Stollen: A Sweet Poem by ChefShop

ChefShop.com deserves some serious points, because they have put out an email blast so amazing that I simply have to share it in its entirety. Because an email newsletter is never annoying when it comes with a poem dedicated to the stollen they are selling.

Let It Snow! A poem by ChefShop.com

Oh the weather outside is frightful, 
But the stollen is so delightful, 
And since we've no place to go, 
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping, 
And I've bought some powder for topping, 
The lights are turned way down low, 
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! 

When we finally take our first bite, 
How I'll hate going out in the storm! 
But if you'll really toast me right, 
All the way home I'll be warm. 

The fire is slowly dying, 
And, my dear, there's still good-buying, 
As long as UPS goes, 
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! 

Of course, you can buy the stollen extolled in this sweet poem on chefshop.com.

Friday
Dec032010

Cake Byte: Cupcake Royale Turns 7!

Like, OMG! Believe it or not, Seattle's first cupcake shop, Cupcake Royale, is turning 7! A lot has happened since they opened their first storefront in Madrona--four more locations have opened, they've developed a lot of great new flavors, and they now carry CakeSpy cards in their stores for your buying pleasure (yeah, shameless plug!). Help them celebrate thusly:

  • What: Happy birthday Cupcake Royale! Join in celebrating their 7th year anniversary and share in the holiday spirit.
  • Where: Cupcake Royale Madrona, 1101 34th Ave., Seattle
  • When: Saturday, December 11 from 4-6pm.
  • How it goes down: 4pm: Free show by Seattle’s most rockin’ band for kids, The Not-Its
  • 5pm: Sprinkle your own cupcake bar and photos with the Cupcake Royale Roller Girl

But wait, there’s more! Drawings for prizes throughout the night, free gifts, and snacks & libations on the house. PLUS a shopping extravaganza with 20% off your gift purchases (not including coffee, pastries, cupcakes)  for the night with your Cupcake Royale or Vérité Coffee Card– including the new limited edition Madrona Neighborhood tee shirt! 

Friday
Dec032010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links

 Holiday sweetness? Bring it on. Some assorted non-holiday sweetness, too. Happy friday links, sweet friends!

Snowballs? Russian Teacakes? Mexican Wedding Cakes? No matter what you want to call them, they are delicious.

Home Sweet Home: Custom gingerbread houses by Rebecca Russell.

Candy Cane Lane: a classic Christmas cookie recipe to get you started on your seasonal baking.

Sweet nostalgia: 20 discontinued snacks to recall fondly.

Sweet flick: a film about Paris and pastry and architecture. Parfait!

Sweet n Tart: Cheeky embossed biscuits by UK-based Bee's Bakery.

Things I am obsessed with: Vanilla Sugar by Rodelle.  Sprinkle it on a buttered scone for extra sweet decadence.

Sweet holiday shopping: DIY DVDs and more sweet stuff for the baker in your life on the Cupcake Envy site!

Strawberry Shortcake Cake. Looks like heaven!

Alcoholic...whipped...cream? Yup, it exists.

Like, OMG: Peppermint Meringue Cake with Chocolate Buttercream. Happy Holidays, indeed.

Chow answers the important questions, like where to obtain an entire tres leches cake in NYC.

Looking for a sweet cookbook? Check out the list of CakeSpy's favorite cookbooks of 2010.

Wednesday
Dec012010

Batter Chatter: Interview with Alice Medrich, Author of Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy

I'll tell you the truth: I don't get starstruck easily. Oh, Brad Pitt's walking by? "He's shorter than I thought" will probably be my reaction (no offense, Angie).

However, it's a different story entirely when I encounter an expert baker and all-around kitchen hero like Alice Medrich. I kind of swoon. Like, OMG! Owner of Cocolat, a dessert shop in San Francisco! She worked at Chez Panisse! She's written 7 cookbooks! And it gets even more exciting with the prospect of actually hanging out with her tomorrow, at a fancy Cookies and Cocktails cookie swap at Cupcake Royale, hosted by Kim Ricketts book events!  Luckily, I kept my cool for long enough to pick her brain about her newest book, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies (officially a big deal as one of my top picks of 2010)--here's what I learned:

CakeSpy: I am making the black bottom pecan praline bars for your upcoming event with Kim Ricketts book events in Seattle. Not that it's a competition, but I really want mine to disappear first--any tips?

Alice Medrich, photographed by Dave LauridsenAlice Medrich: Yes, I think you might do well with Scharffen Berger chocolate. 

CS: Hey! I was reading through your book acknowledgments and noticed one of your recipe testers was Jenny Richards. Is that my beloved Jenny, from Seattle?

AM: Yes! I gave her some things I especially wanted to be reviewed.

CS: Soooo....for you, is it chewy, gooey crispy or crunchy?

AM: I love, love, love crispy. But I am also a chocolate lover, so I love the gooey brownies too. And I love crunchy.

CS: What is the difference between crispy and crunchy?

AM: There is a fine line between crispy and crunchy--it was a little tricky to draw it for for the book, but I tried. For me, crispy is thin and makes a certain type of high pitched cracking sound when you bite into it. And crunchy is thick, and it's noisy, but the sound is a lower tone. I consider biscotti to be crunchy, and little thin tuiles, for example, to be crispy.

CS: What do cookies mean to you?

AM: Little flavorful sweet bites that because they're small you're tempted to eat more than one, two, three...

CS: Why do this type of cookbook, and why now?

AM: The reason for doing this book was to create a collection for our current times, which means a collection of cookies that have all the classics we gravitate to--the brownies, the chocolate chip cookies, the snickerdoodles--but that also has some new and modern flavors as well as variations of those cookies, with an emphasis on flavor.

I've also felt for a long time that cookies have been left behind. We're doing all of these exciting things with food--salt is being used in new ways, and herbs and spices, not so much in a fusion way but with a sense of adventure. And so I did want to bring a sense of adventure to cookies--you'll see cookies with exotic herbs and spices, or with salt and pepper, or with options to experiment. An example is the meneina, which I discovered via a Facebook friend. I found it so fragrant and yummy, and it was a lot of fun to develop; also the carrot masala macaroons, which I invented, which were very fun. It takes very little effort to make a cookie into an adventure.

CS: You've had a flour re-awakening, in a few ways. You've switched from bleached to unbleached flour, as well as started to experiment with gluten-free baking. Tell me more. 

AM: I did switch over to unbleached flour, because I believe it's a better ingredient, a purer ingredient and flavor and aroma from the oven. I loved working on the gluten free part too, which was great fun because it's fun to experiment with new ingredients. I didn't want to work with preconceived notions, so I went into the kitchen and tried to come to my own conclusions with what worked.

CS: Your book has a lot of cookies what include grains, or are low-fat, or gluten-free. How do you get your tasters to get over the "healthy cookie" stigma?

AM: I love that question. When I do something that is supposedly "healthy"--whether it's low fat or gluten-free or or whether it's got whole grains, my first concern is "does it taste delicious?". I'm not looking for "pretty good for gluten-free, or low-fat, etc." And it should be delicious enough for you to serve without qualification. In other words, If I make gluten-free cookies and serve them, I will say nothing--unless of course it is of dietary importance to a guest. I may tell them afterward. 

CS: What quality you detest in a cookie?

AM: In a gluten-free cookie, the taste of raw starch; overdone sweetness and fat in others. It has to go together to make it worth my eating. I don't want to eat sugar and fat calories that don't taste good. For me, a cookie shouldn't be primarily sweet--of course it will be sweet, but it should have a flavor that comes forward.

CS: Tell me about some of the recipes that were particularly interesting to develop in the book.

AM: One of the areas I had a lot of fun with in the book is I found a new way of adding flavor to macaroons; I tried peanut butter, and freeze-dried bananas, and they were incredible. It is interesting--you have to have a light hand with the folding, and it does affect hte texture of the meringue, but it makes it more melt-in-your-mouth, and it's just a whole different way with meringues. And they're also naturally gluten-free, so it's great for people who aren't eating wheat.

CS: If you could give the bakers of America one piece of advice, what would it be?

AM: Get comfortable with measuring by weights--not digging the baking cup in the flour canister to measure. People's measurements are far more varied than you'd think. Get a kitchen scale. They require fewer utensils, less cleanup. I think we would get more consistent results from anything that is baked that has flour--they take away the guesswork about measuring flour correctly--and ultimately we would end up with far better quality.

CS: Tell me about an amazing cookie experience--one of pure pleasure.

AM: . It happened a while back, and I wrote about it in my last book--the spice-dusted brownies. It was a day when I had brownies in the oven, and while they were baking I was working on another recipe where I was grating nutmeg on a microplane zester. Then the brownies were done, and I took them out and across the room, I started smelling the brownies, and I went to taste a tiny corner with nutmeg all over my fingers, and I got a sort of nose of fragrant nutmeg, and then this pure hit of bitterswet chocolate, and it made me realize  that what I wanted to do was serve those brownies with that grated nutmeg just beforeso that they could have that same experience. That layered spicy aroma and the pure chocolate, and you still have the nutmeg in your nose a little biut, but you have that lasting tasting of chocolate in your mouth. And it's different than adding the nutmeg in the brownie--it deconstructs the experience. I do the same with cinnamon. It makes it a full sensory experience.

Oh, baby. With that sensuous story of delicious brownies, I'm signing out and getting into the kitchen to bake! You can buy her book here , and if you're in Seattle, you might still be able to snag a ticket to the event if you're lucky: find out more here.

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