Archive for September, 2009

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze

I have a confession to make: I purchased a Bundt pan nearly a year ago and, up until this weekend, I had yet to use it. It feels good to get that out in the open. I’ve discovered that’s the beauty of the Bundt pan, though: when one has made enough brownies and cupcakes and tarts and crumbles to last a lifetime (or at least a summer), there it is, the promise of a dense and delicious slice of pound cake, staring back at you from/falling out of your ridiculously overstuffed cupboard like some sort of divine culinary sign (or perhaps just a sign that you need to do some cleaning).

I will be the first to admit what a mistake it was to wait this long to put that Bundt pan to use, particularly if everything I make in it from now on is even half as good as this gem from Flo Braker’s Baking for All Occassions (one of my favourite go-to dessert books). I stumbled upon this recipe on Saturday afternoon when I found myself in an unusual mood for dessert simplicity. Normally what I love most about baking on the weekends is the lack of time contraints, albeit such a lack often leads to marathon sessions in the kitchen at all hours and a trail of flour in my wake come Monday morning (have I mentioned how badly I need to clean?!). But, this weekend, I wanted none of it. Perhaps it was my eventful tart-making escapade the previous weekend, or the fact that I had batches of Polperro chips to dunk in hot oil, or that we’d spent the past two weeks knee-deep in the most decadent peanut butter brownies EVER. Whatever it was, I set out to peruse a few cookbooks with the express desire to find something simple, not too sweet, but a bit summery, befitting of one of our final barbecues of the season. I was sold on this recipe the minute I read Flo’s preface to it – this cake, she assured me, is simple and perfect for a leisurely picnic beneath a shady tree. And, it is. It’s dense, citrus-y, incredibly easy to prepare and the speariment-lime glaze gives it a moist inside that almost makes you forget you’re inhaling a solid pound of cream cheese and sugar. But, my favourite part by far is the very bottom, where the cream cheese batter bakes to form a sweet crust that is simply heavenly and which has to be tried to be believed. This is the kind of recipe that will draw your co-workers into your office on a Monday morning to tell you you’re in the wrong line of business (oh, how I love those recipes!). It works for dessert, it works for breakfast, it works for a snack…it works for everything. I’m pretty sure it could cure anyone’s easing into Autumn blues and I, for one, plan on making it again and again. King H is already begging for more, for one, and that Bundt pan refuses to work its way back into the overstuffed cupboard. A divine culinary sign, if you ask me.

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Spearmint-Lime Glaze
(from Baking for All Occassions)

For the cake:

3 1/4 cups (13 ounces/370 grams) cake flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces (2 1/4 sticks/255 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
One 8-ounce (225-gram) package cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups (1 pound, 5 1/4 ounces/600 grams) granulated sugar
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 325 degrees Fahrenheit if the pan has a dark finish). Butter a 10 by 3-inch Bundt pan, light coat it with nonstick spray, then flour it, tapping out the excess flour. Have all of the ingredients at room temperature.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until creamy and smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On medium speed, add the sugar in a steady stream and continue to beat until light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer still on medium speed, add the eggs, 2 to 4 tablespoons at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated. The entire process of adding and beating the eggs should take 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and lime juice during the final moments of mixing. On the lowest speed, gradually add the flour mixture, mixing after each addition only until incorporated and stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The entire process of adding the flour mixture should take about 2 minutes. Detach the paddle and bowl from the mixer, and tap the paddle against the side of the bowl to free the excess batter. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the lime zest. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with the spatula.

Bake the cake until golden and a round wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.

For the spearmint-lime glaze:

6 tablespoons (3 fl ounces/90 ml) water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup lightly packed spearmint leaves
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces/140 grams) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest

In a small saucepan, combine the water, lime juice, butter and mint leaves over low heat just until the mixture bubbles around the edges. Remove from the heat and let steep for 1 minute.

Without delay, tilt and rotate the cake pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert a wire rack on top of the cake, invert the cake onto it, and lift off the pan. Slide a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the glaze.

Press the mint leaves against the side of the saucepan to release most of the moisture, and then discard the mint leaves. Stir the sugar and lime zest into the liquid until smooth. Using a pastry brush, coat the top and sides of the warm cake with all of the glaze. Let the cake cool completely before serving. As the cake cools, the glaze sets up to form a shiny coating.

To serve, slide the bottom of a tart pan, a small rimless baking sheet, or a large offset spatula under the cake and carefully transfer it to a serving platter. Cut into thin slices with a serrated knife.


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So Long, Summer

Summer Barbecue Staples

As the summer draws to its inevitable close (the trees in the Fields are already turning yellow and I’m spending a significant amount of time daydreaming about a long weekend Autumn respite at home), we have taken it upon ourselves to fire up the mini-grill out front for the almost last time and, in doing so, I’ve been reminded of all the now summer staples I’ve accumulated over the past few months. Aside from the Pimm’s (which have been documented here and are an English summer staple in themselves), it’s been the brioche burger buns found in the New York Times which have been the most reliable and the biggest hit (particularly for the nibblers/carb-lovers amongst us). I could be (and have been) perfectly happy eating these on their own, without a piece of meat in sight. They are light and moist and oh so simple – so simple, in fact, that they make you wonder why you ever bought burger buns in the first place. As with all bread-baking, don’t let the rising time deter you. If you have the time, I implore you to make these a few hours before your barbecue. You’ll never think the same way about buns (at least in burger form) again.

And those homemade chips/fries, how happy they have made me this summer. Taken from a cookbook FDW fell in love with at Williams Sonoma during my visit home in May (and, fittingly enough, first made by FDW to perfection when he came to visit me in foggy Londontown), the secret to these crisp and golden potato wedges is in the double fry method. Well, that and the sea salt and the mayonnaise and the Old Bay and the new addition of cheddar cheese, inspired by a trip to Polperro in Cornwall, where cheddar is brought in fresh from the Cheddar Gorge and piled high on everything from chips to fish pie. These are downright addictive and will linger in your mind long after the fire in the grill has died and all the blankets have been brought back in from the Fields. And, speaking of lingering, this first recipe has stuck with me all summer long. It’s simple and fresh and perfect for guests – almost like a greener version of my mother’s antipasti. You can throw in just about anything (prosciutto, peppers, fresh basil) and let it speak for itself. While Fall will always be my favourite season, it’s recipes like these that make it hard to say goodbye to Summer.

Summer Composed Salad

Summer Composed Salad
(adapted from Orangette)

1/2 of a small ripe cantaloupe, seeds and rind removed, cut into rough 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into six slices
About 4 ounces baby arugula
1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for serving
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving
Crunchy salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel
Freshly ground pepper

Divide the melon, Parmigiano Reggiano, and mozzarella between two plates, arranging each item in its own little pile. Set aside.

Put the arugula in a medium bowl. In a small cup, whisk together 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Drizzle the dressing over the arugula, and, using your hands, toss very gently. Put a handful of arugula on each plate, alongside the melon, prosciutto, and mozzarella.

Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over the mozzarella. Splash a bit of lemon juice over the melon. Drizzle the melon and mozzarella with olive oil. Sprinkle a bit of parsley over the plates, if you like.

Yield: 2-3 servings.

Burger in Brioche Bun

Light Brioche Buns
(from the New York Times)

3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened.

In a glass measuring cup, combine 1 cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat 1 egg.

In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, unfloured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let buns rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours.

Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Yield: 8 buns.

Polperro Chips

Polperro Chips/Boardwalk French Fries
(adapted from The Summer Shack Cookbook)

I can’t say enough about The Summer Shack cookbook and so I’ll leave it at this: go out and buy it! Thanks to Jasper, I found myself clearing out the local fish market in my small town in upstate NY, lugging home 10 pounds of cherry-stone clams to make the most delicious clam chowder I’ve ever tasted.

2 pounds Idaho or russet potatoes of uniform size and shape (about 6 to 8 ounces each), washed
About 7 cups peanut, canola or other vegetable oil for deep-frying
Sea salt, such as Maldon or fluer de sel
Old Bay seasoning (optional)
Cheddar cheese (optional)

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat 3 inches of oil to 325 degrees Fahrenheit in a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat or in a deep fryer.

While the oil heats, slice the potatoes lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks. Stack the planks 2 or 3 high and cut them into 1/2-inch-wide fries.

Drop all the potatoes into the oil and swirl them with tongs. Fry until the middle of a fry is hot when tested and doesn’t snap when broken in half, about 3 minutes. The fries should not pick up much colour at all – do not let them brown. Using a wire-mesh skimmer, lift up the fries and drain them over the pot, then transfer them to the lined baking sheet and allow them to cool completely at room temperature, at least 20 minutes (or up to 3 hours). Let the oil cool as well.

When ready for the second frying, line a second baking sheet with paper towels. If you want to keep the first batch of French fries warm until they are all cooked, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Add additional oil as needed to come 3 inches up the sides of the Dutch oven or deep fryer and heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Drop half the potatoes into the hot oil and swirl them with tongs. Transfer the fries to the lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt (top with grated cheddar cheese if desired). You can serve them immediately or keep them warm in the preheated oven. Fry the remaining potatoes, making sure to let the oil come back to 375 degrees Fahrenheit before adding the second batch. Drain on the lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and Old Bay seasoning (and top with second half of cheddar cheese, if desired), and serve hot with mayonnaise (or Ketchup, for those who haven’t seen the light).

Yield: 4, as a side dish.

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Plum Tart

Imagine my surprise when I trudged down to the Royal Mail delivery office on Saturday morning to pick up a mysterious package I presumed to be yet another batch of Twizzlers from my mom or Jacques Torres disks from FDW, only to discover this, which I had been lusting after for ages. To be clear: I love every guest that walks into my house and spends time visiting from the States, whether or not they shove an industrial-sized bag of Twizzlers and bottles of C.O. Bigelow hair products with them in their suitcase for me (though such gestures are always appreciated). They bring a bit of home with them, a bit of my old life, and I’m always so thankful for that. But, it’s a rare guest who can be just as satisfied spending the majority of their visit baking my favourite things and eating at my favourite spots as I am. N was one of those guests. We spent 6 glorious days last month eating our way through the likes of Albion, The Modern Pantry, Freggo, Stein’s, La Crêperie de Hampstead, Roka (where FDW and Natalie Portman mind-melded at the dinner table) and The Wolseley, all while baking breakfast every morning (chorizo frittatas, cinammon and pecan buns, almond and chocolate chip scones, etc.), barbecuing in the Fields (where N and I admittedly spent most of our time nibbling away at the homemade brioche hamburger buns and hoping no one would notice) and making afternoon pit stops for raclette at Borough Market. In between bites, at one point or another, I must have mentioned my desire to visit Tartine as soon as I could get back to San Francisco (N is a SF native). And, lo and behold, a few weeks later, I am now the proud owner of the Tartine cookbook, in all its mouthwatering and beautifully written, insightful glory.

I would be lying if I said this plum tart was the first thing that popped out at me while perusing the book on Saturday morning. On the contrary, I spent a considerable amount of time drooling over recipes for Shaker Lemon Pie, Soft Glazed Gingerbread and Bavarian Cakes. But, eventually I wiped the drool from my mouth, cleared the visions of Brioche Bread Pudding dancing in my head, and recalled that my fridge was full of not one, but two punnets of ripe British plums, which I had intended to use to make a plum kuchen. As I stood before my fruit-filled fridge, I instinctively decided to postpone my Germanic endeavour and put the plums to a higher use. And so, here they are, arranged crosswise (a technique N and I mastered during her visit) on a light and delicious pâte sablée (so light and delicious that I think it will become my go to recipe) and a perfect pasty cream. Elisabeth and Chad (authors of the Tartine cookbook, owners of Tartine, and husband and wife duo extraordinaire), I’ve now read, test potential cooks by having them make a batch of pastry cream, so what better what to start working my way through the book than with a basic, but “challenging test of a baker’s skill and focus”? I’m sure the lemon pies and cream-filled cakes are not far behind, but as an accompaniment for succulent, end of summer plums, this tart is perfect. It’s also my meagre attempt at an overseas thank you, and, while it could never compare to sharing the real thing together in person, I hope it reminds N of home. Because we all deserve a bit of home every once in awhile, most especially when there’s food involved.

Plum Tart

Tartine’s Fresh Fruit Tart

(from Tartine)

Elisabeth and Chad suggest any soft fresh fruit that will give easily to this bite for this tart.

For the Sweet Tart Dough tart shell:

1 cup + 2 tbsp (9 oz/255 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 oz/200 grams) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room tempterature
3 1/2 cups (17 1/2 oz/500 grams) all-purpose flour

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar and salt and mix on medium speed until smooth. Mix in 1 egg. Add the remaining egg and mix until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the flour all at once and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 4 equal balls and shape each ball into a disk 1/2 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight or freeze 3 for future use (this dough will keep for up to 3 weeks).

To line a tart pan, place a dough disk on a lightly floured surface and roll out 1/8 inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn after every few strokes, dusting underneath as necessary to discourage sticking, and work quickly to prevent the dough from becoming warm. Cut out a circle 2 inches larger than the pan. If the dough is still cool, carefully transfer the circle to the pan, easing it into the bottom and sides and then pressing gently into place. If the dough has become too soft to work with, put it in the refrierator for a few minutes to firm up before transferring it to the pan. If the dough develops any tears, just patch with a little extra dough, pressing firmly to adhere. Trim the dough level with the top of the pan with a sharp knife. Place the pastry shell in the refrigerator or freezer until it is firm, about 15 minutes.

If you are making tartlet shells, roll out the dough in the same way, cut out circles according to the size of your pans, and line the pans. The rest of the dough, including the scraps, can be frozen for future use (I used the scraps from forming a 9-inch tart to make a 4-inch tartlet).

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dock (make small holes in) the bottom of the tart shell or tartlet shells with a fork or the tip of a knife, making tiny holes 2 inches apart. Place in the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes for a partially baked large shell or 5 to 7 minutes for tartlet shells. The pastry should be lightly coloured and look dry and opaque. Check the shell(s) during baking and rotate the pans if necessary for even colour. If you want to brush the shell with a glaze (Elisabeth and Chad do this to keep the shell crisp longer), beat an egg with a pinch of salt in a small bowl. A minute or two before the desired colour is reached, remove the shell(s) from the oven and lightly brush the bottom and sides with the glaze. Return the shell(s) to the oven and bake until the desired colour is reached and the glaze is set, about 10 minutes longer.

Let cool completely on wire racks. The pastry shells will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: four 9-inch tart shells or twelve 4-inch tartlet shells.

For the pastry cream:

2 cups (16 oz/500 ml) whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp (4 oz/115 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp (2 oz/55 grams) unsalted butter

Have a bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream with a fine-mesh sieve resting in the rim.

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the trip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. The larger the batch, the more careful you need to be.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lighty whipped cream, about 2 minutes. In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. You want to see a few slow bubbles. However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously, you will curdle the pastry cream. Remove from heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skim from forming on top.

Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon (15 ml) pieces. When the pastry cream is ready (it should be about 140 degrees Fahrenheit), whisk the butter into the patry cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon.

To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap dorectly onto the top of the cream (the plastic wrap prevents a skin from forming on the surface). Pastry cream will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Yield: 2 1/2 cups (enough for at least a 9-inch tart).

For the fruit/assembly:

Have tart shell ready for filling. Spoon the pastry cream on top of the tart shell and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. You may not need all of the pastry cream. The amount you will need will depend on the depth of the shell and how much fruit you are using. You don’t want to fill the shell to the top, as the weight of the fruit can cause the pastry cream to overflow the rim, making slicing difficult. The shell should be about three-fourths full. Top with the fruit.

Glaze the fruit if using cut fruit. In a small saucepan, warm 3 tablespoons of apricot jam over low heat just until it is liquid to make a glaze, and then strain through a medium-mesh sieve. Brush the glaze over the fruit. The tart can be eaten right away, or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Serve it cool.

Yield: one 9-inch tart (plus a bonus tartlet, if you’re lucky!).

Plum Tart

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Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

There are times when no excuse is necessary to make something sweet (read: most of the time). And then there are times when something sweet becomes an excuse in itself, not to mention a bit of procrastination, particularly when one has little time and a pressing need to pack for an impending holiday.  These brownies were whipped up as a “breakfast snack” for the train trip to Cornwall bright and early on the Saturday morning of a bank holiday weekend. Because, really, what better way to both polish off a Tuesdays with Dorie assignment and bake something “nutritious” and “perfect for travel?”  I was licking my clever fingers all the way to Polperro (admittedly because, while delicious, these brownies turned a bit gooey over the course of the 4 hour train trip) while we munched happily on these brownies, swirled with a rich and creamy espresso cheesecake (the slightest hint of espresso, really) and topped with a sugary sour cream icing.  There are few things finer than eating such a brownie for breakfast, staring out the window watching the green rolling hills of England pass by in the sun, all while beating your noble Uno opponent time and time again.

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
(From Baking: From My Home to Yours)

For the brownies:

1/2 cup ap flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9″ square baking pan placed on a baking sheet and set aside.

Whisk together the first three ingredients. Put the butter and chocolate over a double boiler with water simmering. Stir until the ingredients melt, but don’t overheat so that the butter separates. Remove the top of the double boiler and set aside.

Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture with a whisk, then add the eggs one at a time. Beat well after each egg, then beat in the vanilla. Next, gently stir in the dry ingredients until they disappear. Set aside.

For the cheesecake:

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon ap flour

Allow the espresso to cool to tepid. With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cream cheese on medium until it’s completely smooth. Add the sugar and continue to beat for 3 minutes more. Beat in the vanilla and espresso before adding the eggs one at a time. Beat for 1 minute after each egg, then reduce the speed to low and add the sour cream, then the flour. The batter should be smooth.

Pour about 3/4 of the brownie mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth it out, then pour the cheesecake layer over the top, taking care to make it even. Place spoonfuls of the rest of the brownie batter on top, and use a knife to swirl the dark and light batters together. Be careful, however, not to plunge the knife into the base brownie layer. Swirl only as much as necessary.

Bake for around 30 minutes. The brownies should come away from the sides of the pan. The cheesecake will puff and turn lightly browned around the edges. Transfer the pan to a wrack to cool. Once it reaches room temperature, refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until well chilled.

For the topping:

1 1/4 cups sour cream
1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Warm the sour cream and sugar in a small saucepan over very low heat. You need to stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Pour over the chilled brownies, then return them to the refrigerator and chill for at least another hour. Cut the brownies into squares and serve.

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

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