Tag Archives: cake

Bookworm Birthday Cake – Step By Step

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted July 26, 2008

I was delighted to have the chance to make a birthday cake for my friend Hannah (#32) from my soccer years…go Ames Flames! Her mom was having a pretty important birthday and she wanted to surprise her with “something different” for her birthday present – so contacted me to make a cake!

Hannah’s mom is a librarian and also loves to eat healthy food. We bounced around some ideas and finally came up with a cute little bookworm – complete with wire-rimmed glasses – coming out of an apple with a couple of books nearby:

Bookworm cake sketch - Talk Sweet to Me

I quickly went out to the store to buy the most perfect apple I could find to use as a model. GOR-geous.

apple

It is possible that this could have been done entirely of cake, with a board in the middle and dowels to support the top half of the apple. However, Hannah didn’t require that much cake and so I decided to do the bottom half in styro, top half in cake, with a dowel through the middle for support.

Ganached cake - Talk Sweet to Me

I had a momentary panic attack when covering this cake. One of the hardest cakes I ever covered was the soccer ball cake, and I was lucky that Handi was there to help me when I was doing that one. So, channeling some good Planet Cake vibes, I rolled out the icing a little bit thicker than normal to allow for some stretching around the shape and went to town. A little round piece was cut out of the red of the apple and I inserted black icing to make a hole for the worm to come out of.

Covered cake - Talk Sweet to Me

On to the books. These were made of cake with a cardboard base for support so that I would be able to set one at an angle.

Cutting cake for books

Ganaching…

Ganached books

I covered the sides with white and made marks for the pages first.

Covering book with fondant - pages

Then I added thicker icing overhanging the edges for the book cover.

Cake book - Talk Sweet to Me

Next I carved the styro for the worm and covered it with green icing. Then just added texture, wire-rimmed glasses (much harder to bend to shape than I thought they would be, by the way), and a face. My ninja brush was not cooperating. The black went on a little thicker than I would have liked, but ended up looking okay after some minor catastrophe-aversion techniques were employed.

Bookworm - Talk Sweet to Me

Next I added titles to the books and painted them gold.

Cake books finished - Talk Sweet to Me

Putting everything together…

Apple and bookworm cake from top - Talk Sweet to Me

…and the finished cake!

Bookworm cake - Talk Sweet to Me

My mom has been letting me use her fabulous silicone rolling pin. I told her how great it was and she immediately told me not to buy one because they (whoever ‘they’ are!) found toxic substances in them. I knew this could not possibly be true because Handi owns more than one, and surely if there were anyone who would know about those kinds of things, it would be Handi and the rest of the Planet Cake team (and they would have let me know about this on one of the days rolling pins came up in conversation, right?!). Turns out, this was her way of trying to get me to avoid buying one because she had one hidden away for me as a Christmas present. Anyway, Christmas came early this year, and I now have my very own bright red rolling pin.

Me with rolling pin

I’m one happy gal.

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Cake Recipe Testing

Blast from the past - www.talksweettome.com

Maybe this early on in the life of Talk Sweet to Me I shouldn’t show you how cake-crazy and obsessed with perfection I am, but you’ll probably get that idea eventually anyway. For the past several months I’ve been sharing bits and pieces from my old blog which chronicled my start in the cake business. This post is one of my favorites.

“Cake Recipe Testing” was written shortly after I returned to the United States from Australia to show what I did to develop my go-to cake recipes. I hate to admit this, but on the very first order that I completed on my own, I was devastated when the customer complained that the cake was very dry and fell apart. It was the birthday cake recipe that was used in my family for years! That feedback inspired this frantic quest to find the best cake recipes EVER. Was I glad I did it? Yes…I developed a library of recipes I could count on again and again. Would I ever want to do it again? Heck, no. It was a lot of work!

Hope you’ll enjoy this blast from the past!

Written May 2008 - talksweettome.com

Over the past month and a half, I have been doing a bit of baking. By a bit, I mean that I tried 47 different cake recipes in order to narrow it down to fifteen that I can count on to be fabulous. It was tiring, it was messy, it was expensive, it was crazy, and it was worth it.

Do you know the looks you get when you walk into the grocery store and buy 4 packages of 18 eggs each, multiple large bags of flour and sugar, at least six pounds of butter, and mounds of (expensive!) chocolate bars? I got all of those when I went to pick up the ingredients. 75 eggs!

Ingredients for taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

I wanted to wear a sign on my forehead that said “I’m not eating all of this by myself,” (or maybe it would have been funnier if it said I was eating all of it myself!) but it turned out to be a good conversation starter. The guy who rang me up at the checkout counter asked me if there were real carrots in carrot cake. Seriously…

On Thursday afternoon I started making the box mix cakes. It is so easy…

Baking for taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

The first cake testing was held on Saturday, and I figured if there were any cakes that could withstand a couple days of being wrapped with plastic wrap, it would be the unnaturally moist, preservative-filled box mix cakes. Should I tell you how I really feel about box mix cakes??

And that’s not even half of what was made for the first tasting…I spent the next two days, right up to the 2pm tasting, making the rest of the cake. Luckily, my friend Kate, who also bakes and decorates cakes, was my accomplice in these extreme cake endeavors. She did everything from gathering supplies (who knew it would be next-to-impossible to find crème fraiche in Iowa?), to helping with the baking, to cutting the cakes and preparing for the tastings. It is great to know someone who is not only fun to hang out with, but who is also as obsessed with cake as I am. Here she is preparing for the first tasting:

Jones taste testing3 - www.talksweettome.com

Two friends of mine offered to host the tastings at their homes. The first tasting at Sarah and Dan’s house consisted of 26 different kinds of cake, some from a mix and some from scratch. Each of the mix cakes were paired with their corresponding from-scratch cake for the tasting for the ultimate in taste-testing analysis potential.

Jones taste testing2 - www.talksweettome.com

We learned from this tasting that 26 cakes, even when just trying a bite or two of each, was waaaayyyy too much cake and most tasters wanted nothing to do with cake for the next three weeks. No one should ever hate cake, and I think some of them did by the time we were finished.

Jones taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

That is why the second tasting at Katie and Kyle’s house had “just” 15 different cakes. Even fifteen different kinds of cake was pushing it for a few. But they were brave, soldiering on through the feelings of full-ness and sugar saturation.

Katie taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

To keep the tasting anonymous, I gave cakes different names and didn’t tell the tasters whether it was from scratch or from a mix. My scientific background finally came in handy with research methods!

Katie taste testing2 - www.talksweettome.com

For each kind of cake they tried, the tasters filled out a form that ranked the taste/flavor, texture, moisture, appearance, and perception of overall quality of the cake…and they also had to guess whether the cake was from a mix or from scratch. I realize this was just *slightly* over-the-top and I may have looked like a cake-obsessed fool with too much time on my hands, but in the end it was really, really helpful.

The results - talksweettome.com
From compiling the surveys, I found that most people can taste a cake mix accurately…but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like it. I also concluded that there is no way I can use a boxed mix for my cakes. They are easy and inexpensive, but…for me they are cheating. And my tasters said that if a person is going to pay for a cake, they want to feel like they couldn’t have gone to the store and whipped it up out of a box themselves. Quite right. That is why I did all of this ridiculous work.

I am going to go rest now.

Looking back - talksweettome.com

When I look back at this, I’m fairly certain I’d do things differently this time around to develop recipes, but I still find this posting too hilarious to not share. One of the people who commented on this posting way-back-when said she concentrated on finding just one good recipe at a time and gathered smaller groups of friends to taste-test…a good vanilla recipe first, then a good chocolate, then red velvet, etc. It’s a great excuse to get friends together, and if you do one flavor at a time people might even go back for seconds of their favorite recipe, which is sometimes even more telling!

So…has anyone else out there done something similarly crazy? How did you come up with your go-to recipes? Please share your adventures with me in the comments!

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Trial and Error – Cupcake Recipe Taste Testing!

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted May 2008

My very good friend Louisa is getting married in California this fall and I volunteered to provide a cake for her wedding. She requested mint-chocolate cupcakes, since that is a favorite flavor combination (we ate waaayyy too many chocolate-mint brownies as roommates in college). Before the wedding, I figured I’d better find a great recipe and try it out. It was a good thing I did.

I found a cupcake blog with a recipe posted on it for chocolate cupcakes filled with a chocolate-mint ganache and topped with mint buttercream icing. Sounds out-of-this-world fabulous, right? So I baked up the cupcakes, made up the ganache, piped it into the cupcakes, and topped it with the recipe provided for the buttercream.

Here they are cooling on the rack:

Cupcakes cooling on rack - Talk Sweet to Me

And a picture of the cupcakes split in half showing the ganache inside:

Mint chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache filling - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was time to taste-test for quality control. I brought in my mom, who is probably to blame for my sweet tooth, and who also has discerning taste. We both took a bite and…bleh! The first problem was that the cream for the ganache was infused with real mint leaves. It came out tasting like…plants. I’ll be using mint extract from now on. Then the cupcakes were so dry (even though I used moistening syrup) that they crumbled apart like dirt…and sort of tasted like dirt as well. So the end result was a bit too earthy. Dirt texture and taste, plant flavor, etc. Gross. On to trial #2.

Trial #2 was a recipe from a cookbook that my mom has had forever. It wasn’t good either. However, my mom did get creative with the decorating part of things after coming in from the garden.

Mom decorating cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

Halfway through the tasting she says to me, “You know, you’re not the only one around here who can decorate cake.” Here was her creation.

Mom cupcake decoration - Talk Sweet to Me

A half-eaten cupcake with some gorgeous m&m’s pushed into it. She makes me so proud! We had a good laugh about that. At least it could solve a chocolate craving.

Trial #3 was from  one of those cupcake cookbooks where you add stuff to a mix to try to make it taste like a scratch cake. The cupcakes were fairly good and stayed moist for several days, but they still taste like a mix and I still feel like I’m cheating. However, this form of “cheating” requires almost just as much effort as making cupcakes from scratch since you have to add cocoa, buttermilk, whole milk, etc. to the mixture anyway, and it creates just as much mess. I personally think it contradicts the convenience of using a mix and it just doesn’t make that much sense. If you’re going to make a mess and take the time to measure out ingredients, for goodness sake, just make it from scratch!

I have to admit, though, that it is very convenient to make a cake from a box. You can’t mess it up, and it simply involves dumping the package into a bowl along with some eggs, oil, and water. So easy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For this trial, I used my own buttercream frosting recipe with mint extract added instead of the usual vanilla. That buttercream is definitely the winner and will be used in the final version.

Chocolate mint cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

In the end, I have decided to use one of the recipes I discovered during my cake taste-test trials from my friend Katie (who is a fabulous baker and excellent taste-tester!), fill the cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache, and top it with the winning recipe for mint buttercream. Easy.

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A Golf Themed Birthday Cake

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted April 28, 2008

This week was a challenge because I had two cakes to complete and didn’t have the equipment I was used to or the cake and icing which used to magically appear at Planet Cake after Anna Maria ordered it. I know that’s obvious, but seriously, it was harder than I thought it was going to be. I have been running around town like a crazy-person trying to find all the supplies I need in order to make Planet Cake-style cakes from home. Both of my Grandpas had birthdays in early spring this year, so I returned just in time to get myself into the kitchen.

One of the main differences between making cakes here and making cakes at Planet Cake was that I had to make the cake myself. From scratch…making cakes from a box is cheating, but that’s just my oh-so-humble opinion. At Planet Cake it was really convenient to have everything dropped off from the bakers…something I appreciate even more now! I spent the entire day on Monday baking cake. 3 – 9×13 pans of vanilla butter cake, and 3 – 8” round layers of chocolate stout cake.

I used the chocolate stout cake for my Grandpa M’s cake. He likes to golf, so I wanted to make my own version of the normal Planet Cake golf cake for him…with a Grandpa figurine on the putting green.

I started with the 8” round layers…

Starting cake project - Talk Sweet to Me

…and cut them to shape.

Carving cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was time to cover and decorate the cake:

Covered golf cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Golf cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was on to the figurine!

Here is the picture of my Grandpa I worked from:

Grandpa picture

And the finished figurine:

Grandpa golfing sugar figurine - Talk Sweet to Me

A couple photos of the finished cake:

Golfing cake from front - Talk Sweet to Me

Golfing cake from side - Talk Sweet to Me

It was fun to get to actually see people enjoy receiving their cakes this week, something that didn’t happen very often at Planet Cake since a lot of them were either deliveries or picked up on Saturdays, when most of us weren’t there.

We dropped off the cake at Grandpa’s house…

Grandpa McElherne sees cake - Talk Sweet to Me

…and I think he liked it!

Grandpa likes his golf cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Grandpa McElherne party - Talk Sweet to Me

My grandpa had friends over later that evening and planned to serve the cake to them for dessert. Somehow, though, they convinced him that it was too nice a cake to cut and that he should keep it in his china cabinet. I had to gently explain that cakes are made for eating, and if he didn’t cut and eat it pretty soon it would go bad and start to smell. We all ate some later that week and it was goooooood…

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Cakes for Kids – Birthdays, Baptisms, and More

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

I have a file of cake photos that were completed at Planet Cake in my pre-blog time there, so thought I would share them. Here they are:

12th Birthday Cake

This client has the same cake design for their child’s birthday but with different numbers every year.

12 Birthday Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Paint Palette Cake (Note: this photo is from the Planet Cake website…mine was exactly the same but you must imagine magenta writing on the board and of course a different name):

Paint Palette Cake

Doll Dress Cake

Doll dress cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Baby Petals Cake

I will be eternally embarassed by the piping on this one but will put my reputation on the line, noting that this was some of my earlier work, and share it anyway. It wasn’t centered and it bugged me, so I made some swirls. They look really silly, and I could have moved a few flowers and turned the figurine instead of worrying too much about the piping being centered. Live and learn! (Figurine by Handi, I think.)

Little girl figurine cake with petals - Talk Sweet to Me

3-D Number Cake

1st Birthday Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Shabby Chic Cupcakes

These remain a favorite of mine.

Shabby chic cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

Pram Christening Cake (Pram – so cute! – by Handi)

Pram Christening Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

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Making a Wedding Cake With Tiger Lily Sugar Flowers

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I began to learn the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City.

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted April 12-13, 2008

Over the weekend of April 12-13, I attended Handi’s Basics 103 course. It was a blast, as it always is when learning from Handi. It was also great to see Amanda again, who was the facilitator for the weekend.

I sat next to Vivienne, who was fabulous, and recently learned that she has become Planet Cake’s new Intern…she’s already getting rave reviews!

Here is a photo of Handi leading the class:

Handi teaching - Talk Sweet to Me

Handi taught us how to make these cakes step-by-step…

After finishing the ganacheing, we gathered ‘round to learn about covering a square cake:

Handi covering cake demonstration - Talk Sweet to Me

And after stacking our tiers and putting the icing ribbon around the base, Handi also demonstrated how to paint a monogram on the cake:

Handi demonstrating cake painting - Talk Sweet to Me

Here is the finished demonstration cake (I liked the colors, chosen by Amanda):

Planet Cake class example cake - Talk Sweet to Me

My cake was a bit different, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it when it was completed or not. White base, brown ribbon, and orange tiger lilies. I’d made plenty of magnolias before, so thought it was time to try a new kind of flower.

When Handi demonstrated how to make the flowers, my lilies from the previous week were unfortunately used as an example of what NOT to do! It was okay though, because I admit they were a bit funny-looking and I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong…I learned that I bent the petals of the lily too severely at the halfway point. They should have been bent at almost a 90 degree angle 2/3 of the length away from the wire, 1/3 from the tip of the petal. The petals should also go on in two layers, one layer of three a bit lower than the other…just like the real thing!

Tiered tiger lily cake - Talk Sweet to Me

The flower petals were each individually dipped in a food coloring and alcohol solution, and then I brushed on a deeper reddish color on the insides and tips of the petals. After assembling in the two layers, I also added the brown dots with a toothpick.

Sugar tiger lily - Talk Sweet to Me

Here is the final group photo. It is a little blurry, but look at all these gorgeous women with their beautiful cakes!

Planet Cake class group photo - Talk Sweet to Me

 

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Cubes, Cupcakes, and…Celine! Week #5

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted March 24-28, 2008

This is the first week where I’ve been exactly where I want to be at the end of each day. I got a little nervous on Monday afternoon about finishing up my ganacheing, but Ritzy stepped in and helped me finish a couple layers of my cascade, for which I was very grateful. I was comfortable with all the cakes this week too – not too much that I hadn’t done before – so things really seemed to be flowing. The only thing that (still!) gives me fits is the ganache. During week 1, I thought that by week 5 I would be much more adept at it than I am. Maybe during week 6 a light will shine down from the heavens and there will be a major breakthrough. Here’s hoping for an epiphany.

I had 5 cakes this week, and worked with Handi on one extra:

Rough Royal Cube // Exploding Stars 1st birthday // 2-Tier Roses // 3-Tier cascade // Fleur-de-lis cupcakes // Handbag for Handi’s Basics 102 Course (worked with Handi)

Rough Royal Cube
This cake was one of the strangest optical-illusions I’ve ever experienced. Although the cake looks like it is too tall, it really isn’t. And believe me, I measured it enough times to know.

Cube cake in progress - Talk Sweet to Me

There were two flavors in this cake – almond on the bottom, and white chocolate on the top. Since it was so tall, a second board had to be used halfway up the cake for support…in this case, conveniently separating the two flavors. Although I did not use a center pole this time, I would if I did this cake again. The more sturdy, the better.

Antony’s design drawing:

Cube cake design drawing - Talk Sweet to Me

And the finished cake, to have fresh flowers added by the florist:

Royal icing cube cake - Talk Sweet to Me

This cake was, of course, to be “rough, but not rough.” My favorite Handi-ism.

Exploding Stars 1st Birthday

Ahhh…exploding stars. Handi thought that my technique for securing the base rope was a bit on the ridiculous side…the poor cake looks like a pincushion. However, it is hard to make that rope stay in place with only discreet amounts of royal icing! I attached it at the corners and on the backside where the two ends meet, and let it dry overnight before removing the pins.

Placing rope around cake base - Talk Sweet to Me

Here is the finished cake:

Exploding stars first birthday cake - Talk Sweet to Me

2-Tier Roses Cake
This may have been my favorite cake of the week – simple but beautiful. To use Handi’s words, I thought the sage green color was “GOR-geous.”

Antony’s design drawing…

2T Rose cake design drawing - Talk Sweet to Me

…and the finished cake!

Two tier ivory rose wedding cake - Talk Sweet to Me

3-Tier Cascade

Hmmm…I don’t have all that much to say about this cake except that I wish there were a bit more connection between the flowers on the top tier and those on the middle tier. Other than that, I think the cascades are improving somewhat.

Pure white rose cascade cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Fleur-de-lis Cupcakes

After making these 40+ cupcakes, I don’t think it will be necessary to look at a fleur-de-lis again in my life. Who would think that 40+ cupcakes would take an entire day to complete? Even *after* the cupcake stand was already made by Handi and Anna-Maria?!? Ganacheing and icing the cupcakes was not really a problem…it was that darned fleur-de-lis on each of them that took me all afternoon. I was using a mold that was made a long time ago out of icing, so it was obviously very hard. The silicone molds are fabulous since you can just bend them and the shape pops out. With icing molds though, you kind of have to dig your shape out, which is a pretty delicate process. Maybe not quite as delicate as, say, brain surgery, but it comes close. The first technique I tried was vegetable oil spray, but that got pretty messy, pretty quickly. After a few choice words were uttered trying to do that, Anna-Maria suggested using Copha. Genius. A little bit of Copha rubbed all around the mold before pushing the icing in, and bam! The fleurs-de-lis were flying out onto the cupcakes. (For those of you who don’t know – I’d never heard of the stuff before – Copha is a form of vegetable shortening made from hydrogenated coconut oil. It is similar to Crisco but has a much firmer texture, and is readily available in Australia…but not so much in the US.)

The finished cupcake stand from the side:

Fleur de lis cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

And from the top:

Fleur de Lis cupcakes from top - Talk Sweet to Me

Chanel Handbag (with Handi)

I was lucky to have a chance to work on this handbag cake with Handi since I’d always wanted to make one and he needed an example prepared for the Basics 102 course over the weekend. I cut the cake from directions Handi gave me, and he helped me ganache it:

Handi ganaching Chanel cake - Talk Sweet to Me

It was relatively easy to cover since I could gather the icing at the corners, cut it, and smooth it since the rope decoration would eventually cover those areas. I added the quilting pattern, the front flap, and the top zipper and zipper pull, and then covered the board.

Chanel cake covered - Talk Sweet to Me

Handi threaded the ribbon through the chain and stuck them into the sides of the cake. The side flaps were put on while the icing was pliable so they would look natural covering the place where the chain was inserted into the cake.

Chanel cake side flaps - Talk Sweet to Me

Next, the small rope was added around the front and back edges for detailing.

Chanel cake detail - Talk Sweet to Me

Gold Chanel logos and rivets were added to the side flaps, front flap, and zipper pull, and then the large black Chanel logo was added to the left side of the cake. It was tricky to put on! The chain was secured to the board with a bit of royal icing underneath it. Ta da!

Chanel purse cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Other fun

I love the showroom at Planet Cake. It would be a pretty fantastic place to walk into if you were a bride-to-be. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Here’s what you see when you walk in:

Planet Cake showroom - Talk Sweet to Me

And the display window:

Planet Cake Showroom window - Talk Sweet to Me

In addition, this week there was a big international celebrity cake. Celine Dion’s 40th birthday happened to take place while she was on tour in Sydney, so Planet Cake produced her cake. Margie did an amazing job decorating the cake, and the rest of the Planet Cake team pitched in with some behind-the-scenes work. Paris and Jonny took the zillion phone calls about it, Jonny designed the cake, Anna-Maria did some ganacheing and covering (and Ritzy probably did too, sorry Ritzy if I am forgetting!), and Handi put the “40” diamontes on the globe. Here is Margie doing her fabulous work decorating:

Margie working - Talk Sweet to Me

Having a little fun along the way…

Margie with figurines - Talk Sweet to Me

I even got to have a (small) hand in it…Margie let me put the scattered diamontes on the skyline layer. I think this is because she dislikes putting on diamontes, but hey, I had a great time. How often do you get to work on a celebrity cake? I have never moved more slowly or carefully in my life…

Placing diamontes - Talk Sweet to Me

A picture of Celine Dion and her son with the cake:

Celine Dion with cake by Planet Cake

And Paris, Margie, and Jonny with Celine at her party…check out these gorgeous people:

Planet Cake and Celine Dion

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