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Chocolate beetroot cake…1 of your 5 a day…

I’ve recently made it my mission to seek out and trial some new chocolate cake recipes…it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it 🙂

One recipe recce led me to this little chocolate and beetroot number on the Delicious Magazine website. To date I haven’t baked a cake using beetroot but if the success of using carrot in a cake is anything to go by I thought it was worth a try and either way, I’d definitely be getting one of my five a day :). 

I’m happy to report that the recipe was a good’un and produced the most amazingly moist chocolate cake. The only hint that it contained beetroot was when I came across little pockets of sweetness whilst tucking in.

Just check out that crumb…

If you fancy giving it a go yourself you need…

250g plain chocolate (I used 70%)

3 eggs

200g light brown sugar

100ml sunflower oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g self-raising flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

50g ground almonds

250g raw beetroot

For the icing you need…

150g plain chocolate

100g icing sugar

100g soured cream

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees (180 if it’s not a fan) and grease and line the base of a 20cm or 22cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper. I used a 20cm tin, so if you’re using the larger size just bear in mind that it won’t need quite as long in the oven.

Break the chocolate into a bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water to melt. When it’s smooth remove the pan from the heat and set the bowl aside to cool.

Put the eggs, sugar and oil into a large bowl and beat using a hand held or stand mixer until smooth and creamy (approx 3 mins).

Stir in the vanilla extract and sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and gently fold in, along with the ground almonds. 

I highly recommend donning a pair of rubber gloves for the next stage as beetroot has the nasty habit of staining your hands bright pink!

First you need to peel them (aren’t they pretty!?)…

and then grate them…

before squeezing the excess liquid out. 

Now, fold the beetroot into your cake mixture along with the cooled melted chocolate until thoroughly incorporated…

All that’t left to do it pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin…

The recipe says to bake it for 50 minutes to 1 hour, however I recommend checking it after about 45 minutes and testing it by inserting a skewer into the centre, if it comes out clean it’s ready, if not then just pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes and then test it again. Repeat this process until you are happy that your cake is cooked to perfection! If you notice that your cake is browning a little too quickly just cover it loosely with some tin foil.

Leave it to cool in the tin on a wire rack for a few minutes before removing it from the tin and letting it cool completely.

To make the icing, break 150g plain chocolate into a bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water to melt, as before. Once smooth, set it aside to cool before beating in the sifted icing sugar and soured cream until you have a thick and creamy but spreadable icing. Don’t over-beat it! The first time I made it I think I overdid it and was left with icing that just wanted to set quite quickly and was hard to spread. When you’re happy with it’s consistency (it should look like the pic below) spread it over the top and sides of your cake…

I took my cake into work to test on my colleagues and I have to say…it went down a treat!

My Riverford veg box arrived,whilst I was writing this post and I was very excited to dicover that it contained a good few beetroots…I know what I’m going to be making again this week!

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Orange cake with zingy orange buttercream filling & an orange glaze…

Sometimes the simple cakes are the best…here’s one I made recently using my classic Victoria sponge recipe but putting a little orangey spin on it with inspiration from The Primrose Bakery Book. Behold my orange sponge with zingy orange buttercream filling and an orange glaze…

To make the cake you need…

350g unsalted butter, softened

350g caster sugar

6 eggs

350g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

Zest of 2 oranges

Splash of milk

For the zingy buttercream filling you need…

125g unsalted butter, softened

150g icing sugar, sifted

1 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

zest of half an orange

and finally for the orange glaze to top your cake off you need…

200g icing sugar, sifted

2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (180 if not a fan) and grease and line the bases of 2 x 8 inch cake tins.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs along with a little of the sifted flour and baking powder, so that that mixture doesn’t curdle. Add the remaining flour and baking powder and mix well.

Stir in the orange zest. At this point you need to use your judgement and if you feel that the cake mixture’s looking a bit thick, add a splash of milk until it’s smooth and of thick dropping consistency.

Divide the mixture between the 2 cake tins as evenly as possibly, level the tops and pop them in the oven.

Check on your cakes after 30 minutes by inserting a skewer into the centre of them, if it comes out clean it’s ready, if not, pop them back in and check them after another 5 minutes.

As a slight aside, I recently invested in an oven thermometer and it’s changed my life! That sounds rather melodramatic but to be honest it’s definitely been worth the £5 (ish) investment. It turns out that my oven is 10 degrees hotter than the dial would have me believe and as well acquainted as I am with it, I know that the back left hand corner is hotter than the rest. I think this is a good time to say…my name’s Jo and I’m a baking addict 🙂

Right, back to the orange cake…when you’re happy that it’s cooked, remove it from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. 

To make the orange buttercream icing sift the icing sugar into a big bowl and add the softened butter, orange juice and zest, prepare yourself for the inevitable icing sugar snow storm and beat well until smooth and fluffy.

To make the orange glaze simply add the orange juice to the icing sugar and stir well until lump free.

Now, it’s time to get assembling…sandwich the cakes together with the buttercream and top with the glaze, it’s as easy as that!…

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Homemade party rings…

Party rings have to be one of my all time favourite biscuits, even as an adult I can’t resist the super sweet crunchy icing topping and the fact that they fit on your finger (well at least they used to). The other day I thought I’d have a go at making them for myself and what fun I had!…

It turns out they’re really easy to make too!

All you need is…

250g plain flour

85g caster sugar

175g unsalted butter

2 tbsp lemon curd

250g icing sugar

1 tbsp raspberry or strawberry jam

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (fan) and prepare a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

If you have a food processor you can just whizz up the flour, sugar and butter until the mixture has a crumb-like consistency. If like me, you don’t have one it’s still very easy…just put the flour and sugar in a bowl, cut the butter (room temperature is easiest) into cubes and add to the bowl. Now roll up your sleeves and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until you have achieved the same crumb-like consistency. At this point you just need to squish the mixture together into a ball and knead briefly until you have a smooth dough.

Tip it out onto a floured surface (don’t be stingy with the flour) and roll it out to the thickness of approximately 2 £1 pound coins. Use a 5cm/2inch fluted cutter to cut out your biscuits. Lay them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving a bit of space in between as they spread a little when baking. To cut out the all important hole in the middle of the biscuits I used a piping nozzle but if you don’t have one, you’ll just have to scour your kitchen for a suitable tool for the job 🙂

Once you’ve made the holes just pop the trays in the oven for 10 minutes until the biscuits are pale golden. Transfer them onto a wire rack to cool completely and now you can start making your icing…

Mix the lemon curd with 2 tbsp of boiling water until smooth and then sift in 175g of the icing sugar, again stirring until you have a smooth icing. Now, you can either leave it au naturel or get out the food colouring and have some fun!

To make the contrasting icing your jam needs to be smooth, if your jam has pips or bits in it you’ll need to sieve it first so that you are left with a smooth puree. Mix the smooth jam with 2 tsp of boiling water, sift in the remaining 75g of icing sugar and stir until smooth before adding your colouring (optional).

Spoon the lemon icing onto your biscuits, using the spoon to spread it around, making sure the top of your ring is coated. Then use your artistic licence to drizzle the jammy icing over the top any which way you like! If it’s a little bit too thick just add a tiny dash more of boiling water.

And there you have them, homemade party rings! So much fun to make…and to eat 🙂

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Local & handpicked blackberry & apple crumble cake…

Last week I took a rare break in the middle of a busy day of baking, packed my lunch into a bag and ventured into my local graveyard to make the most of the sunshine. Now, you may think it a bit of a strange place to enjoy a picnic but Mill Road cemetery is a stones throw from my house and is a veritable sanctuary away from, well, everything! It’s so beautiful and peaceful and at the moment it’s also chocablock with blackberries…

Unfortunately, on that occasion I didn’t have the time or a suitable receptacle to take any with me but a couple of days later I went on a blackberry picking mission and after pricking myself numerous times and getting well and truly scratched up (I even managed to spike myself in the head, be warned, blackerry bushes are evil buggers) I ended up with a bumper crop…

Just a couple of words of warning…beware of picking from low hanging branches 😉 and before you get baking/eating, make sure you wash them really well to get rid of all of any little friends who may be camping out in your fruit!

I recalled a recipe I’d used a couple of years ago for a blackberry and apple loaf and decided I’d scale it up a bit to make an 8 inch (20cm) cake…

You can either follow the recipe in the link above to make a loaf or use these quantities to make an 8 inch round cake…

375g self raising flour

265g butter

265g light muscovado sugar

3/4 tsp cinnamon

3 rounded tbsp demerara sugar

1 1/2 small eating apple, quartered (not cored or peeled)

3 eggs

1 1/2 oranges, finely grated zest

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

340g blackberries

and then just follow the same recipe (here) to make the most delicious apple & blackberry apple crumble cake, even the better for having picked the blackberries yourself!

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Bakewell puddings…a real 80’s revival!

If you’ve ever visited the lovely little town of Bakewell in the Derbyshire Dales you’ll know all about the humble but delicious Bakewell Pudding! Not to be mistaken with their (somewhat better known) relative the Bakewell Tart. I grew up visiting the Peak District every Autumn half term and a visit to Bakewell was always in the itinerary. Bakewell puddings are basically a puff pastry shell with a dollop of raspberry jam at the bottom, topped with an egg, sugar and almond mixture and although they don’t sound anything special, are absolutely divine!…

Having sadly outgrown my family trips to the Peaks, I thought it was about time to revisit these gorgeous puddings. I had the perfect opportunity last month when my Book & Bake club decided an 80’s revival was in order. We read Jilly Cooper’s ‘Riders’ (which I hasten to say is a brilliant bit of summertime reading 😉 and baked a dish from the Good Housekeeping 80’s edition…

If you own this fantastic, classic cookbook then you are a very lucky person! If not, here’s the recipe…

I decided to make individual bakewell puddings in a cupcake tin. You don’y need to line the tin with greaseproof paper as long as it’s non-stick, I just thought it looked pretty.

Simply put a circle of puff pastry in each hole of the cupcake tin and put a dollop of raspberry jam in the bottom…

Then fill them with the almond and egg mixture before popping them in them in the oven…

and there you have them…

I freestyled a bit by topping them with a few flaked almonds but it’s totally up to you. They’re delicious eaten straight away or if you can resist, leave them to cool and eat them cold. I suggest serving them with some clotted cream and fresh raspberries…

So enamoured was I by these wonderful puddings that I made 130 of them for an event that Carri from Pavitt’s Pie’s had asked me to make desserts for…

I encourage you to don your ski pants and shoulder pads and relive the 80’s, Good Housekeeping style!

The other Book and Bake ladies had excelled with this amazing spread…

Avocado mousse…

viennese fingers…

summer pudding…

and my fave, the black forest gateaux…

with a very ‘80’s’ key ingredient… 

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Retro coconut cake with raspberry jam & coconut buttercream…

Today I made this little beauty…

I’ve been meaning to share this deliciously retro sounding recipe for ages. I found it in one of my Good Food 101 Cakes and Bakes book and tried making it for the first time a couple of months ago. It’s so delicious that it’s found its way firmly into my repertoire of faves.

In making it, I also learnt an incredibly handy skill…how to make coconut cream! I discovered this, whilst scouring my local shops for coconut cream in a last minute panic, but to no avail! Every single shop, however, had boxes of creamed coconut (a solid white block made from pure coconut) so with the help of a bit of on the spot googling I learnt that all you need to do is dissolve 75g creamed coconut (grated) in 100ml of hot water and stir until smooth. Hey presto! These quantities also, luckily, make exactly the amount of coconut cream that you need for this recipe!

All you need is…

175g unsalted butter

175g caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

3 eggs

50g dessicated coconut

2 tbsp coconut cream (remember the handy hint above 🙂

For the coconut buttercream icing you need…

280g icing sugar

100g unsalted butter

3 tbsp coconut cream

and finally half a jar or so of raspberry jam for sandwiching.

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (180 degrees if it’s not a fan) and grease and line the bases of two 8 inch round cake tins. If you find lining cake tins a hassle you should read this handy ‘Kitchen How To’ from Miss Igs.

Mix the butter and sugar together with a handheld electric mixer for a few minutes before adding the eggs, flour and baking powder. Beat well for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Stir the dessicated coconut and coconut cream in gently.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins and pop in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Insert a skewer into the centre of the cake to test it, if it comes out clean, it’s ready!

Leave to cool for a few minutes, then loosen the edges and remove the cakes gently from their tins and put them on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream you just need to sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and beat in the butter and coconut cream until smooth.

Spread half of the buttercream on top of one of your cakes, followed by a layer of raspberry jam on top of that, or if you fancy putting the jam on first followed by the buttercream it’s your call!. Either way, gently lower the second cake on top and finally dollop on the remaining buttercream and spread and swirl to you hearts content until you’re happy with the finished product…

Then cut yourself a huge slice and get stuck in…

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A very summery spiced tomato & red pepper chutney

Afternoon tea just wouldn’t be complete without a nice array of finger sandwiches. I make mine using bread from my local baker (Donaldsons on Mill Road), I make sure I’m not stingy with the salted butter and I most definitely cut off the crusts :). I like to keep the fillings simple and classic…ham & wholegrain mustard, cucumber & cream cheese, egg mayonnaise & cress and cheese & homemade chutney.

My next afternoon tea guests have requested cheese & chutney as one of their fillings and what with it also being the start of the British tomato season, I thought there was no better time to get chutney making!

I felt quite refined this morning as I hopped on my faithful old bicycle (Sally the Raleigh) and pedalled across town to peruse and select the perfect ingredients for my chutney from the market. I was spoilt for choice and came back with this bountiful crop of tomatoes still on the vine and huge red peppers…

I’d found this recipe for spiced tomato and red pepper chutney a while ago in an ancient copy of the Sainsburys magazine. It was very popular with my family and friends when I made it before so I thought I’d give it another go. I love how it retains the vibrant colours of the fresh ingredients…

and…it’s amazingly easy to make. As with most chutneys all you need is time and patience 🙂

To make about 1.5 litres (approx 5 jars) you’ll need…

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander seeds

4 tbsp olive oil

2 large onions, diced finely

4 red peppers, cut into approx 1 cm dice (I like my chutney chunky but if you like yours finer feel free to use a food processor to do the chopping)

1.4kg ripe tomatoes, cut into approx 1 cm dice

8 cloves garlic, crushed

4 tbsp ginger (a chunk of ginger the size of about 4 wine corks), grated

8 tbsp soft brown sugar or demerara sugar

8 tbsp red wine vinegar or cider vinegar

Grated zest and juice of 4 oranges

1 tsp dried crushed red chilli flakes (optional if you like your chutney with a kick)

Lightly crush the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar and toast them in a dry frying pan until they start to release a gorgeous aroma, then remove them from the heat and set aside.

Pour the oil into a large pan and add the diced onions and toasted spices. Cook for a few minutes but try not to brown the onions, just soften them slightly.

Now add all of the remaining ingredients…

and bring to the boil. Once it’s bubbling away, turn it down and simmer until it thickens. Make sure you stir it frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. The test to see if your chutney is thick enough is to drag your spoon down the centre of the pan, if the divide in the chutney remains, you’re done! The recipe I was following said that it would take 30-45 minutes for it to reach this stage but mine took considerably longer, hence the need for time and patience 🙂

But eventually it’ll look a little something like this…

at which point it’s ready to decant into sterilised jars (Find out how to sterilise your jars here)…

Finally, pour a tablespoonful of olive oil on top of the chutney and screw the lids on tight. Once sealed, your chutney will keep for months. Once you crack into a jar just make sure you keep it in the fridge.

Here’s my motley batch of summery spiced tomato and red pepper chutney…

The perfect addition to a delicious mature cheddar sandwich!

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Veg box enlightenment…courgette, feta, & mint fritters…

I recently received my first organic veg box delivery from Riverford Organic. I’ve been wanting to try out a veg box scheme for a while and just haven’t seemed to be able to get organised enough to do it. I eat a hell of a lot of fruit and veg but seem to get stuck in a bit of a rut and cook the same things over and over. I thought that the mystery and pot luck aspect of a veg box delivery would encourage me to be more adventurous with my meals. 

It felt a lot like Christmas when this bountiful box of goodies arrived on my doorstep…

In amongst the veggies was this unidentified greenery…

I posted a photo on Twitter and was promptly informed that they were broad bean tops, which are usually pinched out at this time of year to minimise the risk of black fly infestation in broad bean plants. It was recommended that I pan fry them with some garlic and lemon juice, add them to a risotto or simply steam them and serve with a drizzle of olive oil. 

After using the powers of google for inspiration I came up with my first veg box meal idea…courgette, feta & mint fritters with steamed broad bean tops…

They were amazingly simple to make and in my mind there are no hard and fast rules…if you don’t have mint, don’t add it, if you have lemon but no lime use that instead. The recipe below can be used as a guide but feel free to freestyle according to your own tastes! 

To make 4, which would be enough to serve two as a starter or one hungry person as a main meal you will need…

1 large courgette

1 clove of garlic, crushed

Approx 10 sprigs of mint, chopped

Zest of half a lime

100g feta cheese, chopped

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp plain flour

Lime juice to serve

Start by grating the courgette. Squeeze it between your hands to get rid of as much liquid as possible and put into a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients except the lime juice and mix together to make a sticky mixture…

Heat some oil in a frying pan. Add your mixture to the pan, making 4 fritters and flattening them down slightly. Cook for a few minutes on both sides until they have taken on some colour and are cooked through and there you have it…

The broad bean tops were a simple but tasty accompaniment and the whole dish was finished off perfectly with a squeeze of lime. Since discovering this dish I’ve already recreated it twice and will most definitely be making them again…I appear to be a creature of habit.

I’m already looking forward to my next veg box ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ experience! 🙂

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Banana loaf experiments & my social media embargo…

This weekend I’m doing something I haven’t done for a very long time…I’m going on holiday. I’m not going anywhere tropical, just an hour or so down the road to a country cottage near to where a good friend is getting married, but I intend to fully sign out from the (cyber) world and attempt to leave my email account(s) unchecked, my Twitter account(s) abandoned and my Facebook status un-updated 🙂 This may not sound like such a big thing, unless like me you are a social media/internet addict! Last year my boss bought me Grace Dent’s book ‘How to Leave Twitter: My Time as Queen of the Universe and Why This Must Stop’ it had me laughing out loud, not only at her wit and her insightful ponderings on others’ Twitter behaviour but at the depths of her Twitter addiction. A year on, I wonder what my reaction would be if I read it again and whether I would cringe at the similarities to my own social media tendencies 🙂 But hey ho, as a parting shot, I thought I’d post a blog about this week’s baking adventures. 

The monthly Book and Bake club I go to had rolled around again, this month we were meant to have read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin and have baked a Mary Berry recipe. I failed in a big way on the reading front and didn’t even get as far as buying the book, so to compensate, I baked 4 Mary Berry banana cakes! This may seem a bit excessive but I saw it as a great excuse to a) use up some bananas left over from my latest stint volunteering at FoodCycle Cambridge and b) trial some new recipes.

Here’s the line up… (left to right – banana & honey tealoaf, banana & chocolate chip loaf, gluten free banana, date & walnut loaf, banana & cherry tealoaf)

and again… (clockwise from top right – gluten free banana, date & walnut loaf, banana & cherry tealoaf, banana & honey tealoaf, banana & chocolate chip loaf)

I found all of the recipes online. First up was the banana & chocolate chip loaf 

My chocolate chips gravitated to the bottom of the cake, which however annoying, wasn’t detrimental to the taste. It was amazingly moist and great for the sweet toothed among us 🙂

Next up was the banana & honey teabread, which I discovered on The Goddess Kitchen’s blog…

Now for some reason, my banana & honey teabread didn’t turn out anything like Maria’s pictures. It was the squishiest cake/pudding I’ve ever made and even though I cooked it for 1 hour 30 minutes, longer than the recipe recommended, it showed no sign of setting so I gave in and took it out of the oven, turned my back for a second and when I looked round it had sunk! I was calling this one the failure cake, however, it turned out to be the favourite for a lot of the people who tasted all four! I have a feeling I was over generous with my honey measurements…here’s to happy accidents 🙂

The next one was a bit of an experiment for me as I’ve never ventured into gluten free baking. I stocked up on gluten free flour and baking powder…

and set about making a gluten free version of this banana, date & walnut loaf, which I found on this blog ‘Gardening for Lawyers’

It wasn’t as squidgy as some banana breads I’ve made and eaten in the past but it was absolutely delicious and definitely my favourite! I’ve since made another 2 loaves…

The last experiment was Mary’s banana, date & cherry loaf, which I found posted here on an online forum (see, the internet is a magical thing:)…

It was a classicly yummy banana bread but in my opinion would have benefited from more cherries. Bright red, glace cherries are a guilty pleasure of mine! 

The Book and Bake ladies soon forgave my book reading failure when they found out that they had 4 cakes to try instead of 1!…

So, that’s it from me for at least 4 days…if you see/hear anything from me, I have failed my social media embargo experiment!

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Argentinian alfajores biscuits…

My baking addiction makes me a pretty good person to live with…the kitchen’s always sparkling and there is never a shortage of cake around. The only downside for my long suffering housemates is that they have to wait until whatever I’ve baked has been sufficiently photographed before they can tuck into it and when I eventually let them, I ask them to provide me with comprehensive feedback…so I guess it works both ways! My housemate’s girlfriend, Dani, has an amazingly sweet tooth so is a prime target to try new recipes out on. She’s Argentinian and was telling me recently about a traditional Argentinian biscuit called alfajores, which are light shortbread biscuits, sandwiched together with lashings of dulce de leche and rolled in dessicated coconut. They had me intrigued and sounded a bit like a hybrid snowball/wagon wheel but classier. So, I set out, with the help of the world wide web, to find out more about alfajores and was determined to have a go at making them!

I found a plethora or recipes on the internet and after browsing a few decided to follow this one from Lori Lange (aka Recipe Girl). The biscuits are made using, amongst other things, egg yolks and corn flour which act to make them both rich and light. They also contain cognac and lemon zest, which gave them an awesome flavour! Here are the finished articles…

After chilling the prepared biscuit dough, I cut out and placed the pleasingly perfect circles on a baking tray…

The recipe said to bake them for 12-15 minutes and that they should be dry but not brown…

Dani’s feedback on my alfajores was very positive. She said that they were very authentic but she also told me that her Mum bakes them for literally 5 minutes until they are just set and still retain a slight ‘cookie dough’ texture. I think I’ll take that on board for next time, as they were delicious but slightly dry.

I think next time I could be a tad more generous with the dulce de leche too. I personally can’t get enough of the stuff and would love to have a go at making my own! I’ve added it to my ‘to bake/make’ list.

All in all, my alfajores were a success, they didn’t last long at all in my kitchen, which says it all 🙂

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