The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Debra Wink's blog

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Just back from a week in Vermont, baking under the tutelage of Jeffrey Hamelman, I was itching to get into my own kitchen and fire up the oven. But, what to make? We were going to have chicken gumbo for dinner the following day, so I chose a simple rustic bread. I had enough time for a preferment... check. I had the right flours... check. Okay, off to a good start!

I only wanted to bake two one-pound loaves, so I got out the calculator to scale everything to 1000 grams of dough---a nice round number (a little more than two pounds, I know, but I always lose some to the mixing bowl). Baker's math? Please. "It's no hill for a climber," as my husband would say. After all, I'd been crunching numbers for a week. I was ready. I mixed the pate fermentee and parked it on the counter to ripen overnight. Even though I had doubts about the calcutaled yeast amount, it matured right in the middle of the 12 to 16-hour window. Things are goin' really well.

Next up was figuring out the right water temperature for the dough to end up at 75ºF. But I don't really know the friction factor for my mixer, because it increases with mixing time. And my mixer doesn't follow the usual so-many-minutes-on-first-speed, second speed and so on, because it's not a KitchenAid or any of the usual mixers. I decided instead to wing it this time with cool room-temperature water, and calculate the factor for next time, from whatever temperature the dough turned out. The dough finished a little warm---81º---so I spread it a bit and let it sit on the granite for a few minutes to bring the temperature down to 75º. Still on track.

The bulk ferment and folds went like clockwork. The dough was nice and pillowy when it came time to divide, and I used my newly-learned Hamelman preshaping and shaping skills. (Jeffrey, you'd be so proud.) The loaves proofed in the time specified, and they looked great turned out of their willow baskets. The scoring even looked decent, so I am feelin' PRIT-ty good about myself ;-)

Into the preheated oven they went, as I systematically worked through my loading and steaming routine like a well choreographed dance---one that took me several sessions to get down... but I did. Right down to remembering to shut off the convection fan after I loaded and steamed my loaves (sometimes I forget), because I've found that the oven and stone heat more evenly with the fan, but the loaves open a little better without. Or so I thought. Turns out that maybe there's a bit of a catch...

I watched as the loaves started to spring, and then left the room for a few minutes. When I came back to check on them, one had bloomed quite nicely, but the other was struggling. They both looked the same going into the oven... I was vexed. Did I not cut deeply enough? The stone had preheated for more than an hour. There was plenty of steam. The crust was coming along beautifully. Maybe the universe just decided that I was getting a little too cocky.


The loaf on the left bloomed, the other not so much.   They sounded like a bowl of rice crispies once out of the oven. Is cracking like this during cooling a desireable thing or a defect? 


From the bread on the left in the oven shot, above.   The one on the right---not quite as open on the inside, either. No surprises there.

There was one thing in particular that puzzled me. This doesn't happen every time, but whenever it does, I've noticed it always seems to be the loaf on the right that doesn't open well. That can't be just a coincidence, can it? Time to put on my investigative hat. What do I have here to examine---two loaves of bread and an oven. The loaves were the same going into the oven, but different coming out. What happened in there?

I picked up each loaf to take a closer look. The crust looked about the same from one to the other... until I turned them over. The bottom on the loaf that failed to bloom was a little lighter than the top, and the bottom of the bigger loaf was a little darker than the top. They looked very different. Interesting. So here's my oven setup. What's wrong with this picture?


The steam pan is on the right side, you say---must have somethin' to do with that. Yes it does. But remember, I preheated for over an hour, with convection, so I know everything was good and evenly hot for all intents and purposes. And since the heat was coming from the back of the oven instead of up from the bottom, the pan couldn't have been blocking the stone. And then the light bulb moment...

I preheated the stone to 450ºF. And what's the temperature of water when it's converted to steam? Less than half of that. And where does steam go when left to its own devices? Up. See where I'm going with this? A good amount of steam rises up under the right side of my stone, sucking the heat out from under the loaf on that side. But not every time. Just when I remember to turn off the convection fan right away. When I forget for a few minutes, the fan diverts it away from the bottom of the stone until the steam stops billowing out of the pan. It all makes perfect sense.... now.

So, I guess my new steaming routine, at least for now, will include a few minutes of convection at the beginning of the bake, just until steam stops rolling out of the pan. I will also start looking for a cast iron loaf pan that will fit my configuration a little better than the skillet, and hopefully eliminate the need to leave the fan on. I think the thing I like most about bread is that you never stop learning and refining. Well that, and it keeps you humble.   -dw

To see my fix, skip to:

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I don't remember joining TFL on Christmas last year, but according to the time clock here, it was that evening. And so, to mark the occasion, naturally, I baked a cake.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for making me feel welcome in the community. This is the nicest group of people I've encountered anywhere on the Internet---warm, friendly, supportive and encouraging. Thank you, you've made it a great year!

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

It just wouldn't be Christmas at my house, without Ribbon Cookies. I grew up with these, as did my mother and grandmother. When I asked my grandmother if she knew where the recipe originated, she didn't, but we know she is mainly of Dutch descent, and she remembered both her mother and grandmother making them before her. That makes five generations that we can account for, including my sisters and me---six, if my niece carries on the tradition. My grandmother had two sisters, and so my cousins all make them.... and friends and neighbors.... and now coworkers too. It isn't a closely guarded family secret, by any means; it has always been given freely. And it has always been much requested.

See how pretty they are on a Christmas cookie tray. And they taste both as good, and as unique as they look. It's fun to bring them to holiday get-togethers, because people are generally stumped by the stripes. They always want to know, how did I do that? But it's not a feat of magic. It's so easy, a child can do it. I know, because I did growing up.

My grandmother passed away a few years ago, at the ripe old age of 95. While cleaning out her apartment, I found her hand-written recipe card, yellowed by time, that had become one with the plastic sleave she put it in long ago for protection. That was just like her.

In case you can't read my grandmother's handwriting, here's my version:

Ribbon Cookies

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied cherries
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 ounce milk chocolate, melted
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture.

Divide dough into 3 equal parts. Mix the chocolate and nuts into one part and press evenly into the bottom of a waxed paper lined 9x5" loaf pan. Set pan in freezer for a few minutes or until firm. Stir the cherries into the second dough portion and press evenly into pan over the chocolate layer. Put back in freezer until second layer is firm. Add poppy seeds to the remaining dough and press evenly over the cherry layer. Cover pan and chill in the refrigerator until firm.


Remove dough from loaf pan and cut into thin slices (about 1/8 inch). Bake on greased or parchment-lined baking sheets about 10 minutes at 375ºF. Watch closely because they can burn fast, but they should be starting to color a little around the edges.


These cookies should be crispy when completely cool. If they're not, they may be sliced too thick, not baked long enough or oven is too hot (or not hot enough). Leave some space between them on the cookie sheets, because they grow quite a bit. I make my slices across the short side of the loaf (side to side) and then cut that in half for two medium-size cookies. One year I used unbleached flour and the cookies were not as light or crispy, so it's bleached for my Christmas cookie baking. I add a drop or two of red food coloring to the cherry dough now, because candied cherries aren't as deeply colored as they used to be. They just don't impart as much color to the dough. If you use unsalted butter, you might want to double the salt.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, so I thought I'd get in a quick blog entry before things get really busy... and to prove that I really do make breads once in a while. I found this recipe while searching The American Country Inn and Bed & Breakfast Cookbook (vol. 2), for a vegetable dish to take to my sister's on Thursday. I'm Still undecided on the vegetable, by the way, but these sounded perfect for the Thanksgiving table, so I had to try them out. (I get side-tracked easily.)

My thought was, If they turn out well, I'll freeze and take them, and if not, we really don't need the extra starch anyway. Well, I'm taking them, and I kinda hope they don't all get eaten, because I'm already thinking they'll make a mighty fine bread pudding. I think the dough would be good for other things too---like warm caramel pecan sticky buns.... Okay, enough of that! Time is running out, and I have to decide on a vegetable.

Pumpkin Crescents
makes 3 dozen rolls

2 1/4 tsp. (1 package) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter [the recipe calls for shortening]
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. salt
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
more butter, softened

This is how I put the dough together:
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, then mix with the pumpkin, sugar, egg and salt. Add half the flour, and then as much more as needed, a little at a time, kneading until a firm, elastic dough forms. Add the butter in small pieces and continue kneading until it disappears and incorporates into the dough. Add a little more flour if the dough becomes too soft and sticky (you're going to have to roll this out later).

Round the dough and place into a greased bowl. Let rise until double. (The recipe says about 1 hour in a warm place, but that's not likely with only one package of yeast---mine took 2-3 hours.)

Deflate the dough and divide into 3 equal portions. Round each piece and let rest 20-30 minutes. Roll out into 12" circles, and spread with the softened butter. (It will take around 2 tablespoons per circle.) Cut each into twelve wedges---a pizza cutter works best for this. Cut a small notch in the center of the curved edges. Stretch each triangle from the curved edge to the narrow point, and then widen the curved edge to open the notch by pulling out from the other two corners. Roll up, beginning from the notched edge. Place the rolls on lightly greased sheet pans, with the points tucked underneath, and curve into a crescent shape. Let rise until doubled. Bake at 400F for 14-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Adapted from the recipe by Liberty Hill Farm, Rochester, VT

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I haven't posted to my blog in a while, so it's high time I do. I've been away on vacation for a few weeks, which is why I haven't participated lately, nor have I been baking either. My husband and I just got back from a road trip we took to Charleston, South Carolina. Beautiful town... ever been? Unfortunately for us, the weather was gray and rainy for a good bit of our trip, so when the sun smiled down on us for one whole day, we put on our walking shoes and headed downtown. We traversed our way through the streets, admiring the architecture and beautiful old mansions, the many small graveyards tucked in here and there, and dined on some pretty amazing seafood (something we miss here in the heartland). Just as the sun was getting low, we happened upon a sort of open-air market, where locals hawk their wares.

We meandered through oodles of sweet grass baskets, art, leather, jewelry, spices, etc., until my husband zeroed in on cookbooks. He was on a quest to find gumbo recipes. The booth's owner directed him to a few of the popular ones, and then handed him Charleston Receipts, "America's oldest Junior League cookbook in print." I flipped to the copyright page to see when it was published and found that the first printing of 2000 was November of 1950. It must have been an immediate hit, because they printed 3000 more just one month later. And the thirty-third printing in 2007 brings the total to over 800,000 by my calculations. That's a lot of books. I haven't even looked at the gumbos yet, because I'm still flipping through the baking sections. I love old cookbooks. Anyway...  

As we were packing up to leave Charleston, we had a couple bananas left from a bunch we bought at the beginning of the week. They were already past the point of good eating, so I threw them in the bag to cart back with us, estimating that they would be about perfect for making banana bread by the time we got home. And wouldn't you know it, there's a "receipt" for that :-)

Banana Bread

1 3/4 cups sifted flour (I still have some White Lily from a previous trip south, so I used that)
2 teaspoons baking powder (I used Argo, of course)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening (I chose unsalted butter)
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed banana

You mix this one just like a butter cake---cream the "shortening" and sugar, beat in the eggs one at a time, sift together and add the dry ingredients alternately with the liquid (in this case, the bananas). The batter is turned into an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2" loaf pan and baked at 350ºF. The recipe says about 70 minutes, but mine was done in 45-50.

I'm not at all sure who to give proper credit for this recipe, because the conventions used in the book aren't explained. I'm going to guess the contributor was a Mrs. Robert Wilson, Jr., but she got it from Gabrielle McColl...  I really don't know. Thank you Mrs. Wilson and Gabrielle McColl, whoever and wherever you are!

Now I must tell you, either the temperature was too high or my pan too dark, because the edges are a bit over-browned. I will bake at 325º next time, or 300º with convection, which I find is usually best for anything in a deep pan like this. Regardless, the crumb is just wonderful---moist, tender and fine-textured. I think a double recipe could make a fine bundt cake. It might even be a nice layer cake, made with cake or pastry flour. This is dessert.   -dw

Edited 12/20/18 to fix a broken link

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Yes, that's right... baking powder. I'll bet you've never given it much thought before. I know I hadn't. I mean, I know there are basically two kinds---aluminum-based (I call that "regular") and aluminum-free, right? I assumed all aluminum-based baking powders were pretty much the same, and all non-aluminum powders the same. But it turns out that I was wrong on both counts. My recent foray into biscuit-making and quest for cloud-like loftiness, inspired me to do a little informal research into the science of chemical leavening.

It all started with the Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits I baked one night to go with a big pot of homemade vegetable beef stew. I was still on the hunt for a biscuit recipe that I could be happy with, so I turned to the mini library of Cooks Illustrated hard-bound annuals housed in my living room bookcase. CI has several biscuit recipes to choose from, but since I had never laminated them before, I thought the flaky type might be worth a shot.

The only real decision to make was which baking powder to use. Being an avid baker, I keep a selection in my pantry---aluminum-based for when a strong rise really counts, and aluminum-free for when the taste would otherwise overpower. I decided on Clabber Girl, because I can't really remember what's in the glass jar. I think it is Bakewell Cream Baking Powder, which would have been a good choice, except that has a relatively short shelf life and its age is questionable. Rumford is my favorite for cakes, but not much else. So, Clabber Girl it was.

I was both thrilled and impressed with the recipe, for its high rise and many layers. But I was disappointed in the flavor, which closely resembled "biscuits-in-a-can." In other words, a very strong baking powder taste, owing of course, to the full tablespoon of baking powder called for in the recipe. I thought, no problem, I'll just use half Clabber Girl and half Rumford next time. I do that for some things, to get the best of both. But the rise was only mediocre by comparison. Rumford is aluminum-free and gives me great results in butter cakes, but it seems to fizzle too soon in some of my quickbreads, and wears itself out in the mixing bowl---especially when buttermilk is in the mix.

Left: Clabber Girl
Right: Rumford-Clabber Girl combo

At this point, I started wondering about (Original) Bakewell Cream, which is billed in The Baker's Catalog as the "secret ingredient" for biscuits. I checked around a bit on the Internet, and it does indeed receive very high marks by the New England biscuit makers in its limited distribution area. If this is really THE biscuit leavener, then really... don't I need to try it? So, I bit the bullet and placed an order.

While waiting for the Bakewell Cream to arrive, I turned my attention to Calumet. This is the one I grew up with. Once widely available, it is getting harder and harder to find around here. I searched four stores before finally scoring myself some. It gave my biscuits better flavor than the Clabber Girl, but the rise was not much better than the half-and-half Clabber Girl-Rumford combination. Perhaps that's a clue as to its formulation.

But the exciting thing was, that while on my mission to find Calumet, I stumbled upon a new baking powder. Well, it's new around here anyway, and I had never seen or heard of it before (plus, it says "New!" right on the label). I'm talking about Argo Baking Powder; have you seen it? Yep, it's the same people who make the cornstarch. What's so exciting about this baking powder, is that it has the same active ingredient as the Bakewell Cream, and unlike Rumford, it is a true double-acting, aluminum-free baking powder.

What does that mean? What makes all these baking powders different, you're wondering? Well, the basic equation is the same for all: baking soda + acid = lift. In the presence of moisture, baking soda reacts chemically with the acid, and CO2 bubbles released in the process make a batter or dough rise. Baking soda is the constant, but there are an array of acids to choose from, which can be sorted into two distinct categories---fast-acting, and slow-acting.

Fast-acting are acids that work at room temperature. They react in the mixing bowl when dry and liquid ingredients are combined, to give "bench rise." A good example is cream of tartar, which was used in the first commercial baking powders, and is still used in homemade preparations. The fast-acting acid ingredient preferred in commercial baking powders today is monocalcium phosphate (MCP).

Slow-acting acids don't react right away. They require heat to get going, and don't start reacting until the batter or dough reaches at least 120 degrees F. This is called "oven rise." Slow-acting acids include: sodium aluminum sulfate (SAS), sodium aluminum phosphate (SALP) and sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP).

A baking powder is said to be single-acting if it contains only one acid. If the acid is fast-acting, then the baker will need to get the batter mixed and into the oven very quickly---before it loses its bubbles or it won't bake as high. A double-acting baking powder includes both fast- and slow-acting acids. These are designed to create carbon dioxide gas more slowly, and over a longer period of time. Some bench rise during mixing is advantageous in creating bubble structure, for things like butter cakes, pancakes and waffles. However, a strong oven rise appears to be more important for things like biscuits and cornbread.

Here is a breakdown of the baking powders I tested, and a couple others that aren't available to me locally:

If you've stuck with me this far, you probably want to know how the Bakewell Cream measured up against Argo and the rest of the powders. I have to say that Bakewell Cream's lift rivaled that of Clabber Girl, but the flavor was a whole lot better. You have to combine Bakewell Cream---which is just an acid---with your own baking soda, to create the baking powder effect. Some may find the extra measuring a nuisance, but the advantage is that, unmixed, it keeps indefinitely. Baking powders, on the other hand, have a limited shelf life of about a year.

The Argo biscuits baked up just as light as the Bakewell Cream, so I almost had to declare this one a tie. But Argo eked out the win based on flavor (and the fact that I don't have to mail-order it---not that I wouldn't for something that is truly better). The flavor thing was such a close call, though. I really thought they would taste the same, and had I not had the opportunity to have them side-by-side, I wouldn't have noticed the very slight difference. That's how close it was. So for the lightest, best-tasting biscuits, I would say, opt for something with sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP) in the ingredient list. If there is a secret ingredient, that would be it.   -Debra Wink

Left: Argo biscuits, baking
Right: Bakewell Cream biscuits, cooling

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

This was my contribution to the July 4th feast this year. I was asked to bring a dessert, with a request for something fruity. Blueberry pie seemed like a perfect choice. Simple in concept, but not always simple in execution, baking the perfect pie can be quite a challenge. This one could have used a little more lemon juice in the filling (or better yet, some rhubarb :-), but the crust turned out surprisingly well. And so, I offer my tip for keeping the edges from overbaking:

Instead of piecing together foil strips, I like to cut a doughnut shape. But rather than wrapping it from the top down, like most people do, I find that wrapping upward from underneath the lip of the pan does a better job of protecting the fluted edge from the intense heat rising off the heating element. This allows for lower placement in the oven, which gives better browning to the bottom crust. I can monitor how it's going by baking in a clear pyrex pie plate, and move the pie higher or lower as necessary. 

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

We were planning to cook dinner out on the grill this evening, but it was wet and dreary here today, so we changed plans and pulled some French onion soup out of the freezer instead. I opened Hamelman's book this morning to make the Baguettes with Poolish, only to be reminded that the poolish needs overnight fermentation, so I switched gears and mixed the straight French Bread dough instead. The loaves turned out feather-light and much tastier than anything I could have bought at the store. Given enough time, I would have chosen a bread with a pre-ferment, but under the circumstances these fit the bill perfectly. Since the formula is easy to access in Bread, a Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes (page 233), I'll give my favorite recipe for French Onion Soup instead. This freezes very well. Enjoy!

Famous Barr's French Onion Soup

3 pounds onions (5-pound bag, peeled)
4 ounces butter
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 quarts beef bouillon
1 cup dry white wine (optional)

Slice onions thinly. Melt butter in large soup pot, and saute onions slowly for 1 1/2 hours. Add all the dry ingredients, and saute over low heat 10 minutes more. Add the bouillon and wine, and simmer for 2 hours. Adjust color to a rich brown, if desired, with caramel coloring or Kitchen Bouquet. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate overnight.

To serve: Heat soup. Fill fireproof casserole or individual fireproof bowls. Top with French bread and swiss cheese. Place under broiler until browned.


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

A couple weeks ago, I got the urge to bake some biscuits to go with the big pot of vegetable-beef stew I had simmering on the stove. I rarely make biscuits because we don't eat refined carbs most days. But once in a while, I just get a craving for old-fashioned comfort food. And, light biscuits are still on my list of things to master before I die. Both the fluffy kind, and the flaky kind. So now, I probably have you thinking this post is about biscuits, and it really isn't. I found this recipe for Flaky Buttermilk Buscuits in Cook's Illustrated (Jan/Feb 2006), and decided to give it a whirl. Not too bad, huh?

The biscuits were higher and flakier than I ever thought possible, but I screwed up a couple steps, and they were not quite as great as they could have been. I forgot to heed the warning to not open the oven door, which I did to rotate the pan halfway through baking. The biscuits immediately fell about half an inch--if you can believe it, they were actually taller than this! Then I didn't pull them out of the oven soon enough, and they turned out a bit too overdone. But what potential these have, so hopefully there will be another post about them in the future. When I've mastered them...

What today's entry's about, is the technique utilized in this recipe for flouring the counter. It worked so well for me, I thought I should share. Ordinarily, I just sprinkle or dust the flour over the surface, as evenly as I can, but sometimes I get a few "drops" that need smoothing out. And sweeping your hand over the top, really just wipes the flour away and it ends up too thin to keep wet or soft dough from sticking. The author, Sean Lawler has you first spray the counter lightly with non-stick spray, and spread the oil evenly with a cloth or paper towel. It really gives the flour something to adhere to, but the dough releases easily. It worked really well for laminating this sticky biscuit dough, and I think it would be great for rolling out pie pastry too. Try it.


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink


I was looking through my old Betty Crocker's Cookbook a while back, and came across a couple of pudding cake recipes. Does anybody else remember pudding cakes? I'm probably dating myself here. My mom made a chocolate version when I was growing up, so this was like a blast from the past. All the ingredients are usually hanging out in my pantry, so I had to whip one up right away...

Well, either Betty's version is a dud, or my remembrance is a little distorted, because it was disappointingly bland, pale and lacking a good chocolate punch. The recipe called for shortening, very little salt, and no vanilla. No vanilla! Well I fixed that. I've omitted the one cup of finely chopped nuts from the cake layer, because I felt the texture didn't belong. And I switched from regular cocoa to Dutch processed for a deeper chocolate flavor. Now it's better than I remember.

The thing is so quick and easy to throw together, that it would be equally great as a week-night treat for the family, or an impromptu dessert that'll impress unexpected company. You don't have to get out a mixer, or even grease the pan. And you don't need to let it cool either, because it's best served warm... or hot with ice cream. Now that's immediate gratification!

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake
Makes 9 servings 

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Dutch processed cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (preferably non-aluminum)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup Dutch processed cocoa
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1¾ cup hot water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350ºF.

Measure flour, granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, the baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt into a mixing bowl. Stir in milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla and melted butter; blend in nuts if using. Spread batter in an ungreased 9-inch square pan.

Stir together brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ cup cocoa; sprinkle over batter. Stir 2 teaspoons vanilla into hot water and pour gently over all.

Bake 45 minutes. Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.



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