Baking · Dessert · Italian

Classic Almond Biscotti

There are many different versions of biscotti floating around on the internet, some traditional and some experimental. Some are geared more towards the American palette (think lots of chocolate and sugar) and other towards the simpler, traditional fare for coffee dunking. I tend to prefer my biscotti for drinking with my coffee and prefer to ease up on the sugar, but then again there are times a dark chocolate biscotti with orange call me like a siren. Fun fact: my all time favorite biscotti flavor is pistachio. But in the end, I truly love a classic almond, as well. I think, in the end, there is a great versatility with this recipe: they can be standalone or you can add chocolate or other elements fairly easily.

This recipe can be modified as you see fit. The alcohol provides a depth to the flavor of the cookie. Be sure to add almond extract to achieve the almond flavor.

Time: 3 hours (including chilling & cooling). Actual assembly time is around 30 minutes.

Yield: 3 dozen

You will need:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, unsalted & lightly toasted
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional combinations:
  • Dark or milk chocolate – you can add as chips or melt to dunk one side of the cookie when finished.
  • Roasted pistachio (1 cup) & dried cranberries (1/2 cup). Use orange zest rather than lemon.
  • Anise – use 1/2 tsp anise extract rather than almond extract.

Step one:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer almonds on a sheet pan and toast for 3-5 minutes. Check the almonds every minute to ensure they do not become overcooked. Color should be very light brown. Cool.

Step two:

Blend melted butter, sugar, amaretto, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Add eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt until just combined. Add almonds.

Step three:

Chill the dough for 30 minutes to ensure that it is easier to work with.

Step four:

Wet your hands (this makes shaping easier) and halve the chilled dough and form 2  loaves on an ungreased large baking sheet. I recommend getting a bowl of water and dipping your hands and rubbing them together; then immediately shape the loaves with your wet hands.

Bake until pale golden, about 30 minutes. Allow the loaves to cool for five minutes on the baking sheet. Remove the loaves (I use a pizza spatula) and cool on a wire rack for and additional 15 minutes.

Cut the loaves with a serrated bread knife.

Step five:

Place biscotti (cut-side down) on a clean baking sheet and bake another 15-20 minutes. The color should be light golden.

Cool the biscotti on a wire rack.

Central American · Dessert · Mediterranean

Simple & Refreshing Summer Desserts

While I have a fair amount of baking recipes on this site, in truth, I don’t bake much in the summer. Instead, I prefer quick and easy cool treats for us to enjoy that take advantage of the fresh fruit available. Also, I don’t eat much dairy – only bits of parmesan and feta – so this rules out a lot of ice cream. I favor granitas (italian ices), batidos or agua frescas (fruit drinks) and desserts made with coconut milk. I realized many people out there might be like me and might want some refreshing ideas. What follows are some of my own recipes, as well as recipes I’ve collected from others that we often make for summer evenings. The beauty is no oven, ice-cream machines or molds are required. Simple and refreshing.

Most flavors are grounded in Italian and Latin American flavors reflecting our home and preferences, but some such as the Chai tea latte popsicle are from other cultures that we truly enjoy. A few ideas are from cookbooks that I love: Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet and Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian.

Granitas:

What I love about granitas is that they are relatively easy to make – you blend them and then leave them in the freezer until you are ready to enjoy. They are very healthy, as well, as it is simply fruit and water. If you add sugar, you can sub out stevia for those who are sugar conscious. Honey is also a tasty substitue. I take advantage of using very naturally sweet fruits (i.e. pineapple, watermelon), fresh mint from the garden and limes to make most of my combos. My basic recipe is as follows:

  • 6-8 cups of fresh fruit, chopped
  • 2 tbs lime juice (or 1 lime)
  • 2 tbs honey or 1/4 cup sugar
  • fresh mint (2-4 tbs)

When you blend it together, spread it into a 9×13 baking pan and freeze for an hour and 1/2. Scrape the ice and then put back in the freezer. Set the pan out for 15-20 minutes before serving, so it thaws to the best texture.

Granita ideas:

  • Watermelon Mint Granita – if you have a bunch of leftover watermelon, this is is fast and easy to put together. It is my favorite of all time.
  • Pineapple Mint Granita – simply use canned or fresh pineapple.
  • Lemon & Rosemary Granita – Omit the lime juice and honey. Instead use: 3 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tbs lemon zest. Three sprigs rosemary.
  • Strawberry Mint Granita– 1.5 lbs of hulled strawberries. 1/2 cup sugar (to taste). 2 tbs lemon juice, instead of lime.
  • Melon & Mint Granita – Use cantalope and increase the honey/sugar to desired sweetness.
  • Coconut Granita- I literally use a can of coconut milk, lime juice, and sugar. It’s ridiculously easy.

Quick Coconut Milk “icecream”

This is a great substitute for those who are dairy free, lactose intolerant or don’t have an ice-cream maker. Like granitas, I utilize a 9 x13 baking dish and the freezer. Generally, this freezes within an hour, and better than granitas, no scraping necessary:). The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups of frozen fruit
  • sugar to taste, if desired. I would begin with a 1/3 of a cup and build to desired level of sweetness.

Coconut Milk Icecream ideas:

  • Mango & Cardamom – add three crushed pods of cardamom seed.
  • Pineapple & Cardamom – add three crushed pods of cardamom seed.
  • Papaya & Pineapple – use a combination of these frozen fruits and a dash of lime juice.

Ice Pops or Popsicles

What I love about these is that they can be as simple as pouring some fruit juice in to a mold, or you can make it more elaborate or alcoholic for a summer evening refresher. I like silicone molds, which you can find online for around 8 dollars, but of course, the molds from dollar tree will work just as well in a pinch.

Popsicle ideas

Icy Popsicles: The basic recipe is 2 cups whole fruit (frozen or fresh), 1/4 cup honey or sugar, and coconut water/orange juice/lime juice water as needed for blending.

  • Strawberry-Watermelon – 1 cup strawberries, 1 cup watermelon, 1/4 cup sugar or honey. Lime juice as needed.
  • Mango-Papaya – 1 cup mango, 1 cup papaya, 1/4 cup sugar or honey, orange juice as needed.
  • Any fruit juice – simply add to the molds and freeze.
  • Strawberry Rose – 1 lb stawberries, mint leaves, splash of rosewater, honey & 1 bottle of rose’ wine (source: Bottom of the Pot)*

Creamy Popsicles:

  • Orange Mango Coconut Yogurt – 4 cups frozen mango, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1 can coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • Peach Yogurt – 2 ripe peaches, 1 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • Pineapple Chia Seed – 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 cup pineapple juice, 1/2 cup crushed pineapple, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • Chai tea latte – use a commercial concentrate base of chai tea latte and combine with almond milk, regular milk or coconut milk to desired taste.

Batidos or Agua Frescas

Fruit drinks are a refreshing treat for anytime, and of course, you can add a little alcohol in the evening for some fun. In Costa Rica, they are known as batidos, but in much of Latin America – agua frescas. I love watermelon batidos when I am dehydrated or tamarind when I am constipated or sluggish. They are better than juice because you still have the fiber and vitamins from the cut fruit.

Regardless when you get them in restaurants they are usually made with pulpy syrup base. The old school way is a machete and blender. They can come made with water or with milk. The basic recipe for a batido is essentially 1 cup fruit, 1 cup water OR can evaporated milk (or coconut milk if dairy free), 1/4 sugar or honey. From there, you can add other layers.

Here are some ideas.

  • Tamarind & Orange Blossom – 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup tamarind paste, 1 tsp orange blossom water. You make this over the stove and store in the fridge as a syrup. When ready, combine with five cups of water. Alcohol: tequila. (Source: Bottom of the Pot)*
  • Pina Colada – Pineapple juice, 1 can crema de coco (coconut cream), ice and blend. Alcohol: rum
  • Papaya: 1 cup papaya, 1 can evaporated milk (or coconut milk if dairy free), 1/4 sugar or honey.
  • Peach Lassi – 2 ripe peaches, 3 tbs honey, lime juice (1 lime), 1 cup yogurt (Source: Everyone’s Table)*
  • Limonada de coco – 1 cup cream of coconut, 2 1/2 cups crushed ice, juice of 3 limes, 2 tbs sugar Alcohol: rum
  • Other great fruits – watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberry, pineapple, strawberry, mango – or any combination.

*If you haven’t please check out these amazing cookbooks: Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet and Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian.

Baking · Dessert · Spanish

Tres Leches

There are many iterations of Tres Leches that vary according to country and tradition. Regardless of recipe, tres leches is essentially a cake soaked in three types of milk (evaporated, condensed, and cream). While soaked sponges is far from new (i.e. rum cakes or tiramisu), tres leches utilizes canned milk, which became popular in the 20th century. Several writers trace the cake’s origins to Mexico, but it quickly became popular in Central and Latin America. The recipe that follows is an adaptation from my former colleague who is from Venezuela. Years ago, we had a tres leches bake-off, and out of all the recipes we have tried, hers was the clear and proven winner. This is a very simple, but very delicious recipe. Although it fast to bake and assemble, you will need several hours for cooling and chilling.

For the cake:

  • 5 eggs
  • 200g sugar (1 cup)
  • 200g flour (1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the frosting:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • cinnamon, for dusting

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).
  2. Cream butter & sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla until fluffy and light. Add in flour and baking powder, and beat until well-blended. Pour batter into greased 13 x 9 baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.
  3. Prick the baked cake multiple time with a fork and allow to cool completely. After the cake has cooled, blend condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Drizzle over the cooled cake and allow it to rest in the fridge for several hours (2-2/12 hours). This will allow the cake to expand and absorb the liquid.
  4. Beat remaining cream (2 cups) with confectioners sugar and vanilla until stiff. Layer onto the cooled cake and dust with cinnamon. Serve chilled.
Baking · Dessert

Easy Tarte Citron

Tarte Citron is one of those classic desserts that are deceptively simple, yet take a lifetime to master. What follows is a much EASIER and quicker tarte citron that I promise you will enjoy. A few months ago, I ran a taste test with both the traditional method and this version, and we found that we liked both equally. The French version was more refined, but this version was creamier and a bit more decadent.

Now, if I wanted to impress someone and make homemade pastry, I would go for the classic. But often, I don’t want to make homemade pastry or do bain-maries, I just want a gorgeous lemony tart. As a result, there many shortcuts (i.e. the crust) and using condensed milk instead of creating a custard. That said, I recommend making sure the lemons are fresh squeezed, if possible. We love it, and I hope you do too.

Time: prep – 30 minutes, total – 2 hours

You will need:

  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs or 5 graham crackers crushed
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 egg yolks, large
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (two large lemons)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with rack on the lower level. Arrange pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 4-5 minutes. Let cool. Juice your lemons.
  2. In a food processor or blender, finely grind the graham crackers, sugar & pecans. Add the butter and combine.
  3. Press this pecan mix into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan and bake until the crust is lightly browned (around 7-8 minutes).
  4. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with condensed milk, and stir in lemon juice. Pour filling into the crust and bake until the filling is set (15-16 minutes).
  5. Cool, and then chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of an hour.
Baking · Dessert

Coconut Ricotta Cake

We have a deep-seated love for coconut and ricotta in this house, so it was a matter of time before we made this cake. This cake is essentially a pound cake, with ricotta added as a creamy element. I prefer to use a bundt pan instead of a loaf pan for presentation. I never used a bundt pan growing up (shout out to My Big Fat Greek Wedding), but now I am mildly obsessed when I see how pretty cakes can be.

I often use the coconut-almond vanilla glaze when making this for other people. However, when I want to make this less sweet for home, I skip the glaze and simply dust with powdered sugar. The result is a very creamy edible cake that has become a family favorite.

Total Time: one and 1/2 hours

Ease of Recipe: medium

You will need:

For the cake:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups ricotta, at room temperature
  • 2½ cups cake flour OR 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs coconut extract
  • 1 cup roasted coconut, divided
  • 1/2 cup roasted slivered almonds

For the glaze:

  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk or 1/2 and 1/2

Step one:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Roast coconut and slivered almonds for 5 minutes until light golden brown. Check frequently to ensure they do not burn. Pull from oven and cool.

Raise oven temperature to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Step two:

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla, coconut extract and ricotta. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1/2 cup of roasted coconut. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed.

Step three:

Spoon the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and cream together, adding a few drops of water, if necessary, to make the glaze thick but runny. Drizzle the glaze over the cake with a small spoon. Top with the remaining coconut and slivered almonds. Serve at room temperature.

Notes: If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute 2¼ cups all-purpose flour plus ¼ cup cornstarch.

Baking · Dessert

Lavender Tea Cake

In no way is this a family recipe, but an homage to my mother’s undying love for all things British and Downton Abbey. There are a variety of versions of this recipe on the Internet, so I cannot claim credit. We modified this and made this for her birthday – and find ourselves making it from time to time when lavender is in season. 

One appeal of this recipe is that it is VERY easy to assemble, and it is not too sweet. The texture is a bit bready, and is perfect for afternoon tea.

You will need

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 tbs fresh chopped lavender or 1 tbs dried lavender
  • 6 tbs butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Step one:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Combine the milk and lavender in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat to a simmer, then remove from heat, and allow to cool slightly.

Step two:

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Step three:

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture alternately with the milk and lavender until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

Step four:

Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a wooden pick inserted into the crown of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Enjoy.

Baking · Dessert

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

I have been baking this cake all December for other people to enjoy. I think with Christmas being on a much smaller scale, I am trying to find ways to show appreciation and love to people I hold dear, but can’t necessarily see. Under normal circumstances, I would be sharing this with others, laughing, celebrating the holidays, and feeling rushed. This year is quiet and offers time to be more introspective and appreciative of the relationships that we do have.

This is not my recipe, but one of my absolute favorites I have adapted from Barefoot Contessa. I do several things differently; first, I like to use a bundt pan instead of a loaf pan for presentation. Another is that I don’t add the nuts to the streusel (I left it here in case you prefer it that way). I often use the maple glaze when making this for other people. However, when I want to make this less sweet for home, I skip the glaze and simply dust with powdered sugar.

The result is a very creamy edible coffee cake (or anytime cake) that pleases everyone. We fall back on it for presents to other people, mother’s day, and any occasion that calls for cake. It is a personal family favorite – it is rich, comforting and lovely.

Total Time: one and 1/2 hours

Ease of Recipe: medium

You will need:

For the cake:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2½ cups cake flour OR 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • For the streusel:
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  • For the glaze:
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Step one:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Step two:

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed.

Step three:

For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the nuts.

Step four:

Sprinkle half of the streusel in the bottom of the bundt pan. Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with the rest of the streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water, if necessary, to make the glaze thick but runny. Drizzle the glaze over the cake with a small spoon. Serve at room temperature.

Notes: If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute 2¼ cups all-purpose flour plus ¼ cup cornstarch.

If the eggs are cold, place the whole eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes before cracking them.

Baking · Dessert

Homemade Whipped Cream

All you need is three ingredients and this incredibly versatile topping. I use this for cakes, pies, and my personal favorite, served alongside fresh strawberries.

Total Time: 15 minutes

You will need:

  • A hand mixer and a bowl (chilled, if you have time)
  • I cup – Heavy Cream or Whipping Cream (cold)
  • Confectioner’s Sugar, to taste (2 tbs – 1/4 cup)
  • Vanilla, to taste (1/2 – 1 tsp)

Begin with cold cream – the colder the cream, the lighter the result. Whip your mixture for about 10-15 minutes, until medium peaks have formed.

Chill in the refrigerator until needed.

Serve with fresh fruit or use to top a cake or pie.

Baking · Dessert · Recipes

Fresh Ginger Cake

My family and I adore all things ginger and gingerbread. Gingerbread and ginger cakes were a specialty of my mother’s family, so baking them creates a nostalgia and peace for me, especially during the holidays. This year, everything seem so displaced and disjointed; we cannot gather the same we used to, and we cannot have all of the faces we wish to see around the table.

So, this morning, I found myself thinking of my grandmother and wanting to make ginger cake. I can tell you that, rolling up my sleeves and sifting the flour on my wooden kitchen table, made me feel more connected – even though she passed away 26 years ago, and even though my Thanksgiving and Christmas are far smaller than what I am used to.

Here is the recipe. It is a little more nuanced than most ginger cakes, in my opinion. Most ginger cakes and bread have a cloying sweetness that I don’t care for. The addition of clove and cinnamon give it a depth. Of course, if you prefer things sweeter, feel free to add an extra half cup of sugar. You can top this with confectioner’s sugar, or a home-made whipped cream. Either are lovely. I hope you like it and that it gives you some comfort during a rough year.

Total Time: 2 hours; one hour to prepare and bake and one hour to cool

You will need:

  • 6-8 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and minced.
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup (8 oz) unsulfured molasses
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Step one:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse ginger until finely chopped. This should generate about one cup. Grease a bundt cake pan and set aside.

Step two:

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs.

Step three:

On a stove top, heat the butter over medium-low heat. Stir in molasses, water and fresh ginger until fully blended. Add the molasses mixture to the bowl with sugar and eggs. Combine. Gently fold in flour mixture until just combined.

Step four:

Pour cake batter into pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely for an hour. Then, run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert. Dust with confectioner’s sugar or homemade whipped cream.

Central American · Dessert · Recipes

Arroz con Leche

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Arroz con leche recipes vary widely depending on what country you are dealing with. This one is based off a Costa Rican version that I searched long and hard for. I was trying to replicate my guy’s grandmother’s recipe, and with a few tweaks, it was a success. As a boy, he loved to eat it straight from the pan while it was hot and sweet- but it can be refrigerated and will last for days.

You need:

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 4 1/2 cups water
  3. 2 cinnamon sticks
  4. 3 cloves
  5. 1 can evaporated milk
  6. 2 cans condensed milk
  7. 1 tsp vanilla
  8. 1/2 tbs grated orange skin
  9. pinch of salt

Step one: add orange peel, h20, cinnamon sticks and cloves to a sauce pan.

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Bring to a boil and then add rice. When the rice has absorbed all of the water, add evaporated milk.

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This is the consistency you are gunning for.

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Step two: Bring to a boil again, and then add condensed milk, salt and vanilla.

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Step three: Boil for 10-15 minutes.

Enjoy:)

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