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How to Make Char Siu Bao — Siopao (Steamed Pork Buns) at Home

February 15, 2010 4 comments

Char siu baos are Cantonese buns, bao, filled with a barbecued pork filling, char siu.  They can either be steamed or baked.  I personally prefer the steamed variety either as a snack or as part of dim sum with Chinese tea.  The bao filling can either be savory like char siu pork or it can be sweet like a Lotus seed bun made with sweetened Lotus seed paste.

Siopao is the Filipino char siu bao, which can be filled with pork, chicken, or even salted eggs.  When I was a kid growing up, I always enjoyed tasty siopao with a cold bottle of soda as a tasty snack after school.

How do you make homemade char siu bao?  First make the char siu or barbecue pork filling and then the yeast dough.  Place the filling inside the bun and steam them.  It sounds easy, doesn’t it?  This recipe is adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings.

Making the char siu pork filling

1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp canola oil
salt and ground white pepper to taste
2 scallions, chopped white and green parts
1/2 pound char siu, homemade or store-bought, diced (click here to find out where to buy store-bought char siu pork)
1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry (optional)
1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp water

Char Siu Pork and Scallions

Combine sugar, salt, white, pepper, soy sauce, oyster sauce and water in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions, and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute. Add the char siu pork and stir well.  Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the pork is heated through.

Add the Shaoxing rice wine to the dissolved cornstarch. Add the wine and cornstarch mixture to the warm pork and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute until the mixture has come together into a mass that you can mound. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool at room temperature before using.

The filling may be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.

Making the yeast dough

1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups (12 1/2 ounces) flour

Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the oil to blend and dissolve the yeast. Set aside.

Combine sugar, baking powder and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture.  Slowly stir with a wooden spoon, moving from the center toward the rim, to work in all the flour.  Keep stirring as a ragged but soft dough forms. Then use your fingers to gather and pat the dough together into a ball. Transfer to a clean work surface and knead for about 5 minutes.  You should not need additional flour if the dough was properly made.  Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic.Press your finger into the dough and it should spring back with a slight indentation remaining.

Kneading yeast dough

Place the dough in a large bowl that has been lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and put it in a warm, draft-free place to rise such as an oven and let it sit for around 45 minutes until the dough has nearly doubled.  You can refrigerate the dough if you do not need it right away but make sure that it is covered well with a plastic wrap.

Forming and steaming the bao

Lightly dust your clean work surface with flour.  Cut the dough in half and roll into a foot-long log.  Cut the log into eight pieces.

Making Yeast Dough

Roll each piece into a ball and flatten each piece gently into a small disc using your palm. Using a small rolling pin (either a 1-inch wooden dowel or the end of a wooden spoon like what I used, would do) roll the edges and only the edges. There should be a small bulge at the center of the dough, which the Chinese calls the belly.

Rolling the Dough and Forming a Belly

Place a generous tablespoon of your char siu pork filling in the center of the dough, right on the belly. Wrap the filling by pressing and pulling the edges of the dough.

Making char siu bao

Gather and pull the edges up and twist the top to fully cover the filling.

Making char-siu bao

Cut 2-inch square wax paper sheets and use these to line the bottom of each bun before steaming them. Steam up to 4 buns in an 8-inch bamboo steamer. Make sure that there’s around a 1 to 2-inch space in between buns inside the steamer.  A bamboo steamer is definitely not a must; a regular steamer will work, too.

Steaming the buns

Boil water in your wok or a large pan and place the steamers with the buns in your wok or pan. Steam for around 15 minutes. Make sure that the water does not come in contact with the buns.

Steaming the buns

Remove the lid before you turn off the heat to avoid condensed water from dripping back to the buns. Continue steaming the rest of the batch.

Homemade char siu bao or siopao

You can pretty much put anything inside your bao.  You can make your own barbecue pork from pork loin and your favorite barbecue sauce.  You can even make good ol’ Sloppy Joe if you want and make it your bao filling.  But as Dennis cleverly pointed out, it has to be called Un-Sloppy Joe because it isn’t sloppy anymore. The fact that the filling is conveniently contained inside the bun actually makes baos a really cool snack.

Let me know what interesting tasty fillings you come up with for your bao.

How to Make Chocolate Cake with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Frosting

February 7, 2010 3 comments

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True to Dennis’s genuine love for all things chocolate and all things peanut butter, we made a chocolate cake with chocolate and peanut butter frosting for his birthday.

Okay, I’m actually using the pronoun “we” here very loosely.  It was more like “he” rather than “we”.  Dennis made his first two-layer chocolate cake from scratch and I was the assistant pastry chef and food stylist.  We used a basic chocolate cake recipe from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food and a chocolate butter icing recipe from The Joy of Cooking.  We tweaked the icing recipe a little to make a decadent chocolate and peanut butter frosting instead.  The chocolate cake recipe is a great versatile recipe that can be used to make cakes in any format from sheet cakes to cupcakes.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Icing

For the chocolate cake, makes one 9-inch one-layer or multilayer round cake

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, softened
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1-1/4 cups boiling water

For the chocolate and peanut butter frosting, makes two cups of frosting

4 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Making the cake

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F.

Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour or cocoa, and shake out the excess. Lining the pan with parchment paper makes removing the cake from the pan much easier.

Coarsely chop the unsweetened chocolate.  We used the Venezuelan chocolate El Rey Bucare that has 58.5% cocoa.  Place the coarsely chopped chocolate in a metal bowl and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. The metal bowl should be big enough so that it sits on top of the pot without touching the water.

Melting Chocolate in a Metal Bowl over a Pot of Simmering Water

Turn off the heat. Stir the chocolate from time to time until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside the melted chocolate.

Melting Chocolate in a Metal Bowl over a Pot of Simmering Water

Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter until creamy. Beat the butter either by hand or in a stand mixer. Beat in the brown sugar and vanilla extract. Then beat in the eggs, one egg at a time. When fully blended, stir in the melted chocolate. Add half of the dry ingredients to the mixture and combine. Stir in the buttermilk. Then stir in the rest of the dry ingredients. Gradually pour in the boiling water until completely blended. The batter will have a thin liquid consistency.

Pour the batter equally into the two cake pans and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool completely.

Baking the Chocolate Cake

Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the cake from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. The cooled cake can be kept in the pan and stored if you are not using the cake the same day. Just make sure that it is tightly covered.

The recipe can also be used to make a sheet cake or cupcakes. For a sheet cake, prepare a half-sheet pan as mentioned above. Pour the batter, smooth the top, and bake for about 20 minutes. For cupcakes, bake for about 30 minutes. The recipe makes around 24 individual cupcakes.

Making the icing

Melt the chocolate the same way as previously. Place the coarsely chopped chocolate in a metal bowl and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Remove from heat. Add the unsalted butter, stir in the milk and the vanilla extract. Blend by hand or use a stand mixer. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth and spreadable. Add the peanut butter and mix until well blended.

Add more sugar, if needed, to thicken the consistency. According to the Joy of Kitchen, confectioners’s sugar icings tend to thicken on its own if left undisturbed for a few minutes. Also, it thickens if stirred over a bowl of ice water. Add more peanut butter if you prefer a more peanut buttery taste.

Make the icing just before using.

Assembling the Cake

Place the first layer on a cake pedestal. Using a carving knife, trim the top of the first layer to make it flat.

Assembling the Chocolate Cake

Evenly spread a generous layer of the icing on top of the cake using a metal spatula. Then place the second layer on top of the frosting.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Frosting

Generously coat the cake with the frosting using a metal spatula. The recipe for the frosting makes 2 cups, which we found to be just enough for a two-layer 9-inch cake.  If you prefer a cake more lavishly coated with frosting, adjust the ingredients proportionally to yield more.

The cake was amazing.  Rich and moist.  Dennis’s birthday, too was equally amazing.  Sweet sixteen. :-)

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Chocolate Cake with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Icing

How to Make Ad Hoc Fried Chicken At Home

January 20, 2010 7 comments

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Driving home from Napa, still under the spell of the best fried chicken I have ever had, I started planning on recreating Thomas Keller’s famed fried chicken. There are two things that set Keller’s fried chicken apart from the rest.  First, the chicken is brined for 12 hours in a herb-lemon brine, which seasons the meat and makes it moist and juicy.  The key ingredient is lemon, which goes wonderfully with chicken.  And second, the chicken is dredged in flour seasoned with garlic and onion powders, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper, then dipped in buttermilk and then dredged again in the flour.

The following day I bought myself a copy of Ad Hoc At Home and then assembled the ingredients for my very first homemade Ad Hoc fried chicken.

Buying and Brining the Bird

The recipe calls for 2-1/2 to 3 pound chickens. As Keller suggests, cooking smaller chickens, typically found in farmers’ markets and smaller grocery stores, gives the optimum meat-to-crust proportion, which is critical to excellent fried chicken.

Cut the whole chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. Keller is a huge advocate of buying whole chickens.  It’s a way to become more intimate with the act of cooking, he says and I agree.  For those who have not attempted  to cut a whole chicken before, let me forewarn you: it is not easy.  But I guess like anything else, practice makes perfect.  For the faint of heart, you can always buy a whole chicken and have it butchered before taking it home.

10 Piece Chicken Cut

For the Chicken Brine

5 lemons, halved
24 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
1/2 cup honey
1 head garlic, halved through the equator
1/4 cup black peppercorns
1 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt
2 gallons water

Ingredients for Chicken Brine

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

The recipe makes two gallons of brine that is good for 10 pounds of chicken (3 to 4 whole chickens), which may be a bit much for a single person, a couple or a small family.  I recommend either brining a big batch and freezing the brined chicken that you won’t use or simply dividing the recipe accordingly depending on how much chicken you are going to cook.  I made fried chicken using a single 3-pound chicken and ended up using 1/3 of the amount of each ingredient and it worked fine.  The important thing to remember is to keep the proportions intact.

Pour the brine into a container  large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours.  The chicken may be too salty if you brine the chicken for more than 12 hours.

Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse with cold water, pat dry with paper towels and let it rest at room temperature for over an hour.

Dredging and Frying the Bird

Keller recommends peanut oil for deep frying, which I found to be rather elusive when I was shopping for groceries.  I ended up using canola oil, which he, likewise, recommends.  Fill the pot with at least 2 inches deep of oil and heat to 320 degrees F.  If you have the luxury of two large pots and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark meat in one pot and white meat in another pot.  Otherwise, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat.  Note that the oil should not come more than 1/3 of the way up the sides of the pot.

For Dredging and Frying

1 quart buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
peanut or canola oil

For the Coating

6 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp cayenne
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Again the coating recipe is good for a large batch. For frying just a single 3-pound chicken, I found that using 1/3 of the amount of each ingredient is more than sufficient. Do not be too consumed about measuring the right amount of spices. Feel free to experiment and use the recipe just as a guide.

Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk on a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, and the second bowl of coating.

Fried Chicken Dipping Station

Start with the chicken thighs.  Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess.  Dip them into the buttermilk, then dip into the second bowl of coating.  Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil.  Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the temperature of the oil at 320 degrees F.  Turn the chicken pieces carefully around in the oil and monitor the temperature.  Fry until the chicken is deep golden brown in color, cooked through and very crispy.  The recipe recommends 11 to 12 minutes of frying but, seriously, one important thing I realized is that if you follow the recipe (or any recipe for that matter) to the dot and you get too consumed about details you end up burning the chicken!  Frying for 11 to 12 minutes is not set in stone.  The deep golden brown color, I think, is a better gauge of completeness.

Keller recommends skimmers and spiders instead of tongs when handling the chicken pieces.  Lifting food from below, rather than pinching onto it, allows you to work the food gently.

Using Spiders Instead of Tongs when Making Fried Chicken

Transfer the fried thighs to a cooling rack skin-side-up to allow excess fat to drain.  Make sure that the oil is at 320 degrees F.  Coat and fry the chicken drumsticks.  Turn up the heat and set the oil temperature to 340 degrees F.  Coat and fry the chicken breast and wings.  Make sure to carefully lower the chicken pieces into the hot oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through.

Arrange the chicken on a serving platter.  Add rosemary and thyme sprigs to the oil, which will still be hot and you’ll know what I mean when you drop the herb sprigs in the hot oil.  Let them cook and crisp for a few seconds and use them to garnish your chicken.

A final Keller note is that they let the chicken rest for 7 to 10 minutes after it comes out of the fryer.  If the chicken has rested longer than 10 minutes, keep the chicken in a 400 degree F oven for a minute or two to ensure that the skin is crisp and the chicken is hot.

I love fried chicken.  I really do.  The recipe sounds a bit complicated but you’ll be rewarded with genuinely tasty fried chicken.

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Ad Hoc Fried Chicken Made at Home

Milk is the New Chocolate: How to Make Tres Leches (Three Milk) Cake

January 12, 2010 6 comments

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Homemade Tres Leches

For my birthday this year, Dennis graciously offered to bake me a tres leches cake. I’m actually very proud of Dennis and very proud of myself, too since I feel responsible for converting him. You see, Dennis is, or rather was, a strict chocolate only for dessert person. He loves chocolate and chocolate alone. But I have successfully managed to convince him that there is so much good stuff besides chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate, too. But I also love carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake and I love tres leches.

Tres leches or Pastel de Tres leches is “three milk cake” in Spanish. It is a sponge cake or butter cake soaked in, you guessed it right, three types of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream. The cake is very popular in many parts of Latin America. A popular variation is adding cajeta or sweetened caramelized milk, which makes it cuatro leches, or “four milk cake”.

Making tres leches at home requires a bit of a time commitment. You need to bake the cake and then leave the cake refrigerated overnight to let it soak in the milk glaze before topping it with whipped cream. The recipe is taken from Alton Brown’s Good Eats.   Note that the measurements are very precise, for instance, it’s 6 3/4 ounces cake flour, not 7 but 6 3/4 ounces by weight.  Dry ingredients are by weight.  Liquids are by volume.  Note also that the recipe calls for a standard mixer.  It will make things easier but a big bowl and some brawn will be fine, too.

For the cake

vegetable oil to coat the baking pan
6 3/4 ounces (by weight) cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces (by weight) sugar
5 whole eggs
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the milk glaze

1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half-half

For the whipped topping

2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces (by weight) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Making the Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour a 13 by 9-inch metal pan and set aside.

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine.

Mixing butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a standard mixer

Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Evenly spread tres leches batter in a metal pan.

Do not panic if there appears to be a very small amount of batter.  It will rise and it will soak in the milk glaze later.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.

Tres leches cake fresh out of the oven.

Remove the cake pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork.  Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

Poke the top of the cake with skewers.

Making the glaze

Whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and the half-and-half in a 1-quart measuring cup. Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake.

Pour the milk glaze over the cake.

Refrigerate the cake overnight. The tray will feel very heavy because of the milk glaze. Really heavy.

Refrigerate the cake overnight.

Making the whipped topping

Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk together on low until stiff peaks are formed. Change to medium speed and whisk until thick.  The topping can also be made without a standard mixer. It can be done with just a large bowl, a whisk and a lot of stamina.  It’s more difficult but it can be done.

Heavy cream, sugar and vanilla whisked until thick.

Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spread the topping evenly over the cake.

For a more festive tres leches, add some color by sprinkling candy sprinkles generously over the whipped topping.

Candy Sprinkles and Whipped Topping.

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It may appear daunting to make tres leches at home but let me assure you that the rewards are great and tasty. It’s creamy. It’s moist. It’s sweet. It’s seriously delicious.

Homemade Tres Leches

Homemade Bibingka for the Holidays

December 20, 2009 11 comments

A true Filipino Christmas is never complete without the beloved bibingka.

Bibingka is a native rice cake topped with cheese and salted egg baked over hot coals in a clay oven and served with butter, sugar and grated coconut.  It is very popular during the Holidays but it’s virtually available back home anytime of the year.

I grew up enjoying this sweet treat, which brings back so many memories of Christmases past.   Since I have this strong urge to indulge and, disappointingly, I could not find a decent place in the city that makes them, I decided to make bibingka myself.  It’s technically not from scratch since I planned on using  store-bought rice cake mix but I figured, I would use banana leaves, which would bring the level of complexity a few notches higher.

And so I drove to Manila Oriental Market, my newest discovery in the city.  It’s a huge Filipino supermarket that sells pretty much all things Filipino, from notorious duck eggs to freshly baked pan de sal.  I got myself a White King bibingka mix, eggs and butter.  We had confectioner’s sugar at home and so I was fine. And I also bought frozen banana leaves for under a buck.  I thought about getting salted eggs and coconut to grate but I decided to keep it simple for now.

Here are the ingredients.

1 250 g pack White King bibingka mix
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 eggs
1 cup water
4 tbsp melted butter

Beat 3 eggs, add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour the mixture into ramekins lined with banana leaves. Top with slices of cheese. Fairly simple, right? I used four 5-inch ramekins and topped the cakes with a really sharp cheddar cheese.

Ramekins lined with banana leaves

Bibingka mix in ramekins lined with banana leaves

Preheat the oven at 450F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. The White King box says it’s okay to broil but don’t. I broiled my cakes on my first try and burned them! Apple pie déjà vu!

Brush with some butter and serve hot.

Bibingka Fresh Out of the Oven

I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted, seriously. Dennis enjoyed it a lot, too. He got a kick out of the banana leaves, which I must say made it even better. Well, next time I want to try it with salted eggs and some grated coconut. Or better yet, I want to try the real thing. It’s time to plan a trip back home.

Homemade Bibingka

By the way, I was completely surprised to find out that bibingka is a close relative to the Indian dessert bebinca, a pudding made of flour, sugar, butter and coconut milk. The dessert is also popular in Portugal and Mozambique.

Dynamo Donuts

October 25, 2009 1 comment

Glazed. Chocolate Glazed. Custard filled. Creme filled. Cruller. Cake.  Donuts are one of my favorite things.

And the list just got even longer now that I have discovered Dynamo Donuts at 24th Street in the Mission.

Dynamo Dounts

Over the weekend, I feasted on vanilla bean, coconut, lemon pistachio and maple glazed bacon apple.  Okay, I know it’s a bit too much but you really can’t blame me. I was literally a kid in a donut store!

The saltiness of the little chunks of crispy bacon complements the sweetness of the maple glaze very well, which made the maple glazed bacon apple an instant favorite.  And the lemon pistachio donut definitely tasted as good as it looked.  The lemon icing and toasted pistachios were incredibly tasty.  They have taken donuts to an entirely new level.  Now, I can’t wait to go back and try their banana de leche, the donut is filled with dulce de leche and bananas and then tossed in sugar.

The coffee is equally tasty, too.  Beans are from Four Barrel Coffee, which is also in the Mission.  You can find Dynamo Donuts at 24th Street between York and Hampshire and Four Barrel Coffee at Valencia between 14th and 15th.

By the way, donuts are calorie bombs.  I’m not a party pooper but it’s good to treat yourself to a donut every now and then but not everyday!  It’s all about portion control and having a sugar fix every now and then!

Lemon Pistachio Donut

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