Sunday, December 22, 2013

Red velvet cookies and another German movie

Red velvet cookies / Biscoitos veludo vermelho

I’ve been really into Europeans movies lately and, so far, I have seen really good films: after the Danish directors I went a little South and watched the excellent The Edukators (with the now Golden Globe nominee Daniel Brühl).

Since I’d already loved Soul Kitchen and The Wave I got into a German state of mind and decided to watch another movie from my grandmother’s home country, one that everyone I know tells me I would love, and indeed I did: Run Lola Run. It is such an amazing movie, very different from most things I’ve seen, with a very unique rhythm that is absolutely contagious – Franka Potente does a terrific job as Lola (all that running must have been physically challenging) and after I read that she could not wash her hair for seven weeks to avoid discoloring it I admired her even more. :D

My Christmas series has come to an end and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have – the last recipe is for these delicious cookies, as red as Lola’s hair. :D

Happy Holidays!

Red velvet cookies
from the always stunning Donna Hay magazine

100g unsalted butter, room temperature
160g brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
100g dark chocolate, melted and cooled – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
185g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
pinch of salt
1 ½ tablespoons red food coloring
200g dark chocolate, in chips or small chunks
about 100g icing sugar, for rolling the cookies

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat in the melted chocolate. On low speed, beat in the flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and food coloring and mix just until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips/chunks. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
Sift the icing sugar into a shallow bowl. Using a cookie scoop, portion 1 leveled tablespoon portions of dough and roll in the sugar, then carefully form into a ball using your hands and roll again in the sugar, this time covering the dough ball very generously with it. Place onto prepared sheets 5cm (2in) apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cracked and slightly firm around the edges. Cool completely on the sheets over a wire rack.

Makes about 50

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas torrone and a very overrrated movie

Christmas torrone / Torrone de Natal

I was reading something about Spring Breakers yesterday and decided to watch the notorious Kids, which script was written by Harmony Korine. I remember all the fuss created by the movie when it was released many years ago and now that I have seen it I know it was only because of its “controversial” subject, not because it’s any good. It’s a poor movie, uncomfortable to watch and completely unnecessary - one and a half hours of my life wasted with something very overrated.

When I was little, every year in the middle of December, my father received a basket of goodies from the company he worked for: there was panettone, prunes, raisins, chocolate, and torrone (which was my favorite treat in the basket). Nowadays, the torrone I find in shops is nothing like the torrone of those days – I believe both the product and my taste buds have changed – and up to recently I though the candy was really overrated (and what 6-year-olds know of good sweets, anyway?) :D.

That was until I made it at home. ;)

If you’re short on time, though, or don’t have a candy thermometer around (which is mandatory for making torrone), use your egg whites, pistachios and cranberries to make the financier version of torrone.

Christmas torrone
from Martha

edible wafer paper, enough for 2 layers in pan
1/3 cup corn starch
3 large egg whites
1 cup honey
3 cups (600g) granulated sugar
½ cup (70g) confectioners' sugar
130g shelled raw pistachios
130g dried cranberries

Piece together wafer paper, without overlapping, to fit bottom of a 22.5x32.2cm (9x13in) baking pan, and set aside. Liberally sprinkle a clean surface with the corn starch. Pour egg whites into bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine honey and granulated sugar. Place over medium heat; cook until mixture just begins to simmer, about 4 minutes. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of saucepan; continue to heat, stirring occasionally.
Beat whites until stiff peaks form; add confectioners' sugar, and beat until combined. When thermometer registers 157°C/315°F, remove honey mixture from heat. Temperature will rise to 160°C/320°F. Stir until temperature drops to 148°C/300°F, 1 to 2 minutes. With mixer running, slowly pour honey mixture into egg-white mixture (at this point, whites will double in volume; let stand a few seconds; volume will return to normal). Beat until mixture thickens and begins to stick to beaters; beat in the pistachio and cranberries.
Pour mixture onto cornstarch-covered surface (I found it easier to remove the mixture from the bowl using my hands, because it’s so stiff a spatula wouldn’t work); knead 3 turns and avoid incorporating too much corn starch. Stretch and roll to fit pan; place mixture in pan. Cover with another layer of wafer paper; let cool on wire rack. Cut into slices while still warm; store in airtight container, with parchment between layers, for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 40 large pieces – I made the exact recipe above using a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gingerbread brownies and a movie I should have seen in 2006

Gingerbread brownies / Brownies de gingerbread

While there are movies I keep watching over and over again, I can’t find a way to watch others, no matter how much I want to: if it’s on TV, I’ll probably have to be somewhere else at the same time (or it will be aired at 3 in the morning), or the weekend I brought the DVD home I didn’t have the time to sit and watch it – you name it. One of those movies was Children of Men, and a couple of days ago I could finally watch it, and what a magnificent movie it is. Alfonso Cuarón had already won me over with the excellent Gravity, and in Children of Men his work is pure perfection – what he does as a director in this movie is beyond words and it’s just ridiculous that he wasn’t nominated for Best Achievement in Directing; actually, the movie had only three Oscar nominations (while The Help, for instance, had four, for crying out loud), and Clive Owen was ignored while Forest Whitaker took the award home – I can’t even.

So here I am, seven years later, hating myself for having waited so long to watch such a masterpiece. Since I don’t want that kind of thing to happen when it comes to food, I present you some delicious and super easy to make gingerbread brownies – I wasn’t sure I was going to bake these, after all my Christmas series this year is pretty chocolaty already, but why wait? Not seven years, not even seven days. :D

Gingerbread brownies
slightly adapted from the wonderful Delicious Australia

185g unsalted butter, chopped
150g dark chocolate, chopped – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
200g brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, sifted
100g dark chocolate, chopped or in chips, extra

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a square 20cm (8in) baking pan, line it with foil, leaving a 5cm (2in) overhang on 2 opposite sides, then butter the foil as well.
In a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water), melt butter and 150g chopped chocolate. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
Add the sugar and stir to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, flour, baking powder, salt, spices and cocoa and stir until incorporated. Fold in the remaining 100g chocolate. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until brownies are set around the edges and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let brownies cool in the pan over a wire rack.
Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 16

Monday, December 16, 2013

White chocolate ginger buttons + the best horror film of all time

White chocolate ginger buttons / Biscoitinhos de gengibre com chocolate branco

Much like my “to make” recipe list, the list of movies I want to watch grows longer every day – there is always something interesting I haven’t seen yet, new releases every week... I don’t think I’ll be ever done with either list. :D

To make things harder, now and then I feel like watching my favorite movies again, especially the ones I saw in my teenage years – it seems that now that I’m older I can savor them a lot more. Last week I watched Angel Heart again (for the third time, to be more precise) and I found it to be even more fantastic than the last time, years and years ago. I found the acting even better – how great is Mickey Rourke in this movie? – the writing even more genius, and the way Alan Parker develops all that is sublime. I consider The Exorcist the scariest horror movie ever made, but the best, to me, is Angel Heart.

I thought I was done with ginger cookies this Christmas but when I saw these pretty buttons I could not resist – if I can’t help watching certain movies over and over again, how could resist spiced cookies filled with white chocolate (two things I love)? ;)

White chocolate ginger buttons
slightly adapted from here

2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
1/3 cup (75g) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup (80ml) molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

140g (5oz) white chocolate, finely chopped
pinch of cinnamon

Cookies: preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter with sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the egg, molasses and vanilla. On low speed, add the reserved ingredients and beat just until combined.
Roll dough by 1 leveled tablespoon into balls; place 5cm (2in) apart onto prepared sheets. Press the center of each ball with your finger or a small measuring spoon. Bake just until edges are lightly golden, 10-12 minutes. (Wells will have mostly filled in.) Remove from oven; using the back of a round 1 teaspoon or the end of a wooden spoon gently re-press wells. Let cool on sheets over wire racks for 5 minutes. Transfer to racks; let cool completely.

Filling: in a small heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water), melt white chocolate, stirring until smooth. Spoon about ½ teaspoon chocolate into each well. Sprinkle with the cinnamon. Let stand until chocolate is firm, about 1 hour.

Make-ahead: Layer between waxed paper in airtight container and store for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 45 cookies

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas rocky road + two out-of-this-world performances

Christmas rocky road / Rocky road de Natal

Days ago, thanks to wonderful people who post movies on the Internet (thank you so much!), I could finally watch Behind the Candelabra and what an excellent movie it is: I expected something good because, well, it is a movie directed by Steven Soderbergh, but it turned out to be so much more than what I’d expected because of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. I could never have thought Douglas could deliver such an amazing performance – I guess that depending on how old we are we tend to associate him with the action hero type or the sexual roles he played in the past (I liked him a lot in Traffic, too, and it’s not his fault Oliver Stone ruined Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps).

For a couple of hours Douglas was Liberace, going the extra mile and doing so much more than just wearing extravagant clothes – the voice, the hair, the manners, it was all there, all perfectly executed.

I love versatile actors and that is why Matt Damon is one of my favorites: with his pretty face he could have easily settled as a heartthrob and taken the romantic-comedy route, but he chose diversity instead and has showed us what a great actor he is. He’s brilliant as Scott Thorson and it’s a shame him and Douglas are going head to head in the awards season, because both deserve to be showered with awards.

My Christmas series continues, this time with a very easy, no-bake recipe – as Liberace clothes were studded with crystals and rhinestones, these rocky road squares are studded with deliciousness, such as nuts and dried fruit. :)

Christmas rocky road
slightly adapted from the always stunning Donna Hay mag

800g dark chocolate – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil
120g dried cranberries
180g mini marshmallows
200g Turkish delight, diced
120g pistachios, coarsely chopped

Very lightly butter a 20x30cm (8x12in) baking pan and line it with foil (the butter will keep the foil from sliding around in the pan).
Place the chocolate and oil in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water – do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water – and stir occasionally until melted.
In a large bowl, combine the cranberries, marshmallows, Turkish delight and pistachios. Set aside about 1 cup of the chocolate mixture and pour the remaining over the ingredients. Stir until well coated.
Pour mixture into prepared pan and press it down. Drizzle with the reserved chocolate and smooth the top with a spatula.
Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Cut into pieces, remove the foil and serve.

Makes 74 tiny pieces (or cut them larger if you prefer)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vanillekipferl (Viennese vanilla crescents), and a not so fair competition

Vanillekipferl (Viennese vanilla crescents) / Vanillekipferl (biscoitinhos de baunilha de Viena)

The people behind the Oscars have apparently developed a strategy of leaving the most powerful performances out of the competition (maybe to make sure the-not-so-great ones get the awards? Who knows). Last year both Tilda and Michael Shannon weren’t included in the game (and they were absolutely magnificent in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Take Shelter, respectively), and 2013 will be remembered by me as the year Marion Cotillard got ignored even though she kicked everyone else’s butts with Rust and Bone. The movie is so amazing I haven’t been able to write a single line about it so far (the“The Tree of Life effect”, as I call it), and Marion’s portrait of Stéphanie is something sublime. Harvey Weinstein must have felt relieved when Marion did not get nominated, for she would definitely make things a lot harder for Jennifer Lawrence – I adore her, but that Oscar was a joke (and a demonstration of the power of lobby).

These cookies, with their German name and their amazing vanilla flavor, are one of the best I have ever made (and I have made quite a few); they are delicious, melt in the mouth, and since they also look pretty they would be great as a gift or as an addition to the Christmas table – I just feel sorry for any other cookie around them as I don’t think it would be a fair competition... ;)

Vanilla beans are a luxurious ingredient and I don’t use them often, but since it’s Christmas I thought a bit of splurge wouldn’t hurt; if you intend to make the cookies don’t forget to plan ahead since the sugar needs some time alone with the vanilla. ;)

Vanillekipferl (Viennese vanilla crescents)
slightly adapted from the über complete The Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 recipes

Vanilla sugar (for dusting the cookies):
170g confectioners’ sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds remove with the back of a knife

245g all-purpose flour
25g confectioners’ sugar
pinch of salt
70g almond meal
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds remove with the back of a knife
170g cold unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Start by making the vanilla sugar: place the sugar, vanilla seeds and bean in a small bowl and mix with your fingers to perfume the sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature overnight.

Cookies: in a food processor blend together the flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt, almond meal and vanilla seeds. Add the butter, pulse to combine. With the motor running, add the vanilla extract and process just until a dough forms. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F; line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Roll ½ tablespoon (leveled) of dough per cookie into a cylinder, then bend the ends over to create a half-moon. Arrange the crescents onto prepared sheets 2.5cm (1in) apart and bake for about 10-15 minutes or until pale golden.
While the crescents are still warm, gently toss them in the vanilla sugar, then allow to cool completely on wire racks.
Let the cookies cool completely before transferring them to storage tins. Sift more vanilla sugar over the cookies before serving.

Makes about 50 cookies

Monday, December 9, 2013

Eggnog bars and messing up with iconic things

Eggnog bars / Barrinhas de eggnog

Many people I know are against remakes – I’m not; there are wonderful remakes out there – some are even superior to the originals – and there are bad ones, too. That’s life, right?

I think it’s hard to deal with traditional and iconic characters (unless you’re David Fincher), and maybe some of them should be left alone in all their glory. Chloë Grace Moretz has done a disservice to her career by very poorly portraying a character that Sissy Spacek elevated to perfection, and Carrie is such a bad movie in general that not even the goddess Julianne Moore can save it (and that, to me, says a lot).

Let’s mess with traditional and iconic things in a better way, shall we? Let’s get a celebrated Christmas drink and turn it into cakes, cookies and cheesecake bars – I don’t think anyone will be disappointed. ;)

Eggnog bars
slightly adapted from the wonderful The Good Cookie: Over 250 delicious recipes, from simple to sublime

150g digestive cookies
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
9 tablespoons (125g) unsalted butter, melted

335g (12oz) cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup (133g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup (80ml) heavy cream
3 tablespoons brandy
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg + a bit extra for sprinkling on top of the bars before serving

Crust: position oven rack in the center of oven; preheat to 180°C/350°F.Lightly butter a 20x30cm (12x8in) baking pan, line it with foil so that the foil extends 5cm (2in) beyond the short ends of the pan; lightly butter the foil.
In a food processor, blitz the cookies until ground. Pulse in the cinnamon. With the motor running, add the butter and process until combined. Transfer crumbs to prepared pan and press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until it is slightly puffed and set.
Cool slightly over a wire rack while you make the filling. Decrease oven temperature to 160°C/325°F.

Filling: in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar at medium speed until smooth and light, about 1 minute. Beat in the cornstarch; add the egg and egg yolks, one at a time, beating until blended and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the heavy cream, brandy, vanilla, and nutmeg. Scrape filling into the slightly cooled crust; bake for 15-20 minutes, until the filling is set. Cool completely over wire rack, then refrigerate.
Before serving, sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg and cut into bars.

Makes 24

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chewy speculaas blondies and one of the most beautiful trailers I've ever seen

Chewy speculaas blondies / Blondies de speculaas

My sister and I love watching the trailers when we go to the movies, and after each one we turn to each other and say “yes” or “no” (if we will or will not watch that movie once it premieres). Weeks ago, on the Catching Fire session, we saw the trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and I must confess that when Ben Stiller’s face first appeared onscreen I was more than ready to say “no” – I really can’t stand his movies – but by the end of the trailer we were both enthusiastically saying “yes”. :)

One of the most beautiful trailers I’ve seen and the equally amazing music (the song has been in my head ever since) have made me want to watch a movie starring Ben Stiller – I could barely believe it. :D

It was also hard to believe I could have speculaas without all the rolling and chilling and cutting (and then more chilling) of dough – one roll out cookie in this heat is enough already. :) Edd Kimber’s blondies do deliver all the speculaas delicious flavors and with chocolate to boot – what’s not to love? :D

The blondies turned out flavorsome and thin, but to me that’s not a problem: I became fan of thin bar cookies after being introduced to Alice Medrich’s brownies.

Chewy speculaas blondies
slightly adapted from the delicious The Boy Who Bakes

½ cup (113g/1 stick) unsalted butter
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
200g light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
30g white chocolate, in chips or chopped
30g dark chocolate, in chips or chopped
60g almonds, lightly toasted, cooled and chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Lightly butter a 20cm (8in) square baking pan, line it with foil leaving an overhang on two opposite sides and butter the foil as well.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium high heat, add the spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and cool. Whisk in the egg and vanilla, then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the white and dark chocolates and almonds, then pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs (like a brownie). Cool completely in the pan over a wire rack, then slice into squares to serve.

Makes 16

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chocolate pain d’épice, two versions of the same song and of the same baked good

Chocolate pain d'epice / Pain d'épice de chocolate

One day, back when I worked as a teacher, I told my students I liked Soft Cell and, two days after that one of them brought me the “Memorabilia” album and begged me to listen to it – he was sure I would love it, and in fact I did. On that CD there was a slightly different version of “Loving You, Hating Me” from the one I knew (and already liked) – the arrangement was a little less metallic, let’s put it this way – and I fell completely for the new version (it became one of my all-time favorites).

Last year I posted a recipe for pain d’épice and now I bring you another one, made with whole wheat flour and chocolate – I like both, but the chocolate version won my heart over (thank you, Eric Lanlard). :)

Chocolate pain d’épice
slightly adapted from the absolutely beautiful and delicious Chocolat (I bought mine here)

200ml whole milk
8 tablespoons clear honey*
125g dark chocolate – I used one with 53% cocoa solids
300g whole wheat flour
65g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange blossom water

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 900g loaf pan, line it with baking paper and butter the paper as well.
In a small saucepan, combine the milk and honey and heat gently but do not let it come to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until melted. Cool for 5 minutes.
in a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices and salt. Make a well in the center and whisk in the eggs, vanilla and orange blossom water. Whisk in the chocolate mixture, then whisk until smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan over a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully unmold and transfer to the rack. Cool completely, then remove the paper.
The pain d’épice keeps well for up to 2 weeks if well wrapped in plastic.
You can toast the pain d’épice slices and serve them with butter or jam.

*measuring honey by the spoonful is a pain in the neck – if you don’t feel like doing that, go ahead and consider that I used half a 350g jar

Serves 8-10

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gingerbread stars because Christmas is around the corner

Gingerbread stars / Estrelinhas de gingerbread

One of the things I hear the most these days is that time flies and I couldn’t agree more – I cannot believe that December has already arrived; it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree, to buy gifts for the loved ones and to start thinking about the food – since it’s too early for turkey I kicked things off with these cute and delicious gingerbread stars. :)

I usually shy away from cut out cookies at this time of the year because of the insane heat, but days ago the sun wasn’t so harsh and I managed to make these without much trouble, just refrigerating the cookies before actually baking them. A sprinkling of icing sugar to mimic snow and my Christmas series begins now (and if you’re looking for inspiration and can’t wait there are several posts from previous years here). :)

Gingerbread stars
slightly adapted from Mowie’s beautiful blog

130g unsalted butter
4 tablespoons corn syrup
110g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
330g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
icing sugar, for sprinkling

Place the butter, sugar and syrup in a small saucepan and melt together over a medium heat. Cool, then stir in the vanilla.
Place flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl, add the melted mixture and mix until a dough forms – I used an electric mixer for that but the mixture wouldn’t come together no matter how much I mixed it; therefore, I cracked an egg in a small bowl, lightly beat it with a fork and, with the mixer on, l added the egg gradually until the dough came together (I used nearly half the egg).
Divide the dough into half, form a disk with each half and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F and line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Roll out the dough onto a floured surface to 5mm thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut the dough into shapes and place onto the prepared baking sheets 2.5cm (1in) apart. Refrigerate for 10 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on the sheets over a wire rack, then sprinkle generously with icing sugar. Reroll dough scraps once.

Makes about 4 dozen using a 5cm (2in) star cookie cutter

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