Rising Confidence and Yeast-Raised Doughnuts

February 2, 2010 at 7:19 pm 81 comments

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As boring as it might sound, I’m comfortable with the ordinary. I like routines.

I hit the snooze button twice every morning before crossing the cool carpet to get my fuzzy socks. I have the same cereal in my favorite breakfast bowl, the marbled blue and white one that says “Good Morning” in wavy print along the rim.

When school is finally over, I head to the same patch of parking lot, leaning from the weight of my backpack onto the bumper of my friend C-‘s car. As we carpool home, I look out the window and remark how much brighter each day is getting, and he smiles and turns up the radio.

I like routines, because I like the comfort of knowing what to do – it keeps me focused and organized, and I feel like I’m on target.

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Sometimes, though, you’re forced to adapt, to step out of your comfort zone even if you haven’t put on your shoes or accumulated enough experience. Lately at Seastar, the restaurant where I intern, I’ve been working on banquets, which are uncharted waters for me.

Banquets are different from normally working on the pantry line. Instead of plating orders of food for tables, the Seastar chefs make enough food to feed a private business or organization. While the biggest ticket I’ll probably tackle on the pantry line is for 8 people, banquets can go up in the hundreds. And banquets, unlike salads or desserts on their own, are composed of multiple courses.

If you ask me, banquets are much more stressful. There’s a palpable intensity in the kitchen that I can’t quite handle. There’s a rush to cook and plate the food, and though I wish I could help, I just haven’t learned enough yet. For starters, I’ve never seen most of the entrees and appetizers, and for another, I haven’t picked up the skills to execute what my mentors are doing.

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I tried to be helpful, running to plate hundreds of cheese-filled fingerling potatoes. I used only my fingertips, the way I saw the chef before me, to move each potato half from the sweltering pan to the platter. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t imitate the nimble way the other chefs worked. The blistering heat from the bubbling cheese seemed to burn holes in my palms, and I was slow and clumsy. I ended up stepping back because I felt like a burden.

It’s not like me to get flustered, to feel incompetent and to cast my eyes down in atypical introversion. So even though I didn’t like working on banquets, and could have said so – I think that ultimately this new experience will be good for me, it’ll help me acquire new skills and tougher fingertips.

I had the chance to go back to the pantry line, and I will sometime. But at the moment, it would seem like giving up, and determination is one of my stronger qualities when I put my mind to something. So I’ll keep working through the banquets, despite my frustration and the lack of coordination between my ambition and my ability.

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I know someday the turnaround will come. I’ll be wiping down the counters after a night spent on my feet when I’ll realize I was helpful that day; that my presence made things run a little more smoothly. And everything will be worth it. Right now, I want to try new things in every area of my life, from the stainless steel kitchens at work to my quiet, sunlit kitchen at home.

I’m making a greater and greater variety of things now. In the past, unsure of myself or “realistic” as I called it, I stuck to simple cakes and cookies. Now I’ve made so many things I never thought I could tackle, from French macarons to bagels. I want to cross everything off my wishlist. Every success and every failure makes me a little more daring, and suddenly I forget the appeal of the routine.

When people ask me if I cook, I laugh and shrug a little, and when they ask about bread I deflect by describing my mother’s talents. I’ve said many times before that I’m scared of making bread because I’ve never worked with yeast. But now, I can finally proudly say that I’ve made a yeast-raised baked good – and it wasn’t any scarier than jumping off a diving board.

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I don’t know what gave me the push to make doughnuts. I’ve been eying them for a while, longingly. But the thought of working with yeast, and the “probable failure” I expected overpowered my desire. Who knows what gave me the final push? Maybe 17 and Baking, a browse through Tastespotting, or simply a craving for something homey.

In an effort to avoid the plunge, I considered making cake doughnuts or baked doughnuts. But in my heart I wanted to make yeast-raised doughnuts, fluffy and tall and pillowy, and no talk of “healthier baked doughnuts” or “cakey rings of goodness” could really sway me. My refrigerator was stocked with homemade blackberry jam and leftover meyer lemon curd, and I rejected my reservations like a deep exhalation.

It seemed simple enough to let the yeast bloom in the water like a dusty ripple, and when I peeked underneath the warm towel I saw that the dough had doubled in size. From there it I felt like I was on stable ground, easily cutting the doughnut rings like they were sugar cookies, and chasing them in the bubbling oil with my slotted spoon.

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And the first bite? Anything but ordinary.

[PS: The comments on last week's post were better than a hug from my mom or falling asleep with my dog Tilly (well, maybe.) It was unexpected and so uplifting. Thank you for being supportive, and I want to add that since the exposure has died down, I haven't had experienced any more negativity.]

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Truly, I didn’t have much trouble with this recipe. I followed Joy’s instructions to a T when it came to making the doughnuts. I think my oil was too hot, since the doughnuts browned quickly into crispy exteriors, and next time I might lower the heat, but the results were still as light and risen as I’d hoped.

I got exactly 12 doughnuts out of the recipe and a big bowl of doughnut holes. I wasn’t sure what to do with the scraps, since you can’t reroll them, but my dad threw them in the pot and they were delicious tossed in cinnamon sugar. I rolled the doughnut holes in powdered sugar, and as for the doughnuts themselves? I filled some with blackberry jam, some with meyer lemon curd, and topped some with a powdered sugar glaze and sprinkles.

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Yeast-Raised Doughnuts
From Gourmet via Joy the Baker
Makes 12 doughnuts, plus doughnut holes and scraps

1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons warm water (105–115°F)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for sprinkling and rolling out dough
1 cup whole milk at room temperature
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
About 10 cups vegetable oil for deep frying

Stir together yeast and warm water in a small bowl until yeast is dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Mix together flour, milk, butter, yolks, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and yeast mixture in mixer at low speed until a soft dough forms. Increase speed to medium-high and beat 3 minutes more.

Scrape dough down side of bowl (all around) into center, then sprinkle lightly with flour (to keep a crust from forming). Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (Alternatively, let dough rise in bowl in refrigerator 8 to 12 hours.)

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round (1/2 inch thick). Cut out as many rounds as possible with 3-inch cutter, then cut a hole in center of each round with 1-inch cutter and transfer doughnuts to a lightly floured large baking sheet. Cover doughnuts with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes (45 minutes if dough was cold when cutting out doughnuts). Do not reroll scraps.

Heat 2 1/2 inches oil in a deep 4-quart heavy pot until it registers 350°F on thermometer. Fry doughnuts, 2 at a time, turning occasionally with a wire or mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon, until puffed and golden brown, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. (Return oil to 350°F between batches.)

Toss doughnuts in cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, sugar, etc, or top with glaze (see below). To fill with jam or curd, I used a piping bag with an open round tip and stuck it in as far as it could go and squeezed while pulling out.

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Doughnut Glaze
Adapted from Alton Brown
Makes enough for a dozen doughnuts

2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

Combine milk and vanilla in a medium saucepan and heat over low heat until warm. Sift confectioners’ sugar into milk mixture. Whisk slowly, until well combined. Remove the glaze from the heat and set over a bowl of warm water. Dip doughnuts into the glaze, 1 at a time, and set on a draining rack placed in a half sheet pan for 5 minutes before serving.

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Maple and Walnut Nanaimo Bars (Daring Bakers) Vanilla Bean Jasmine Rice Pudding

81 Comments Add your own

  • 1. EmLue  |  February 2, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Mmmm, looks delicious! I’ve always wanted to make doughnuts, yet never had the joy of wandering across a recipe for them. Thanks for sharing! :)

    Reply
  • 2. Alex  |  February 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    I don’t actually like donuts, I find them disgusting. But these, now these I have to try.

    Reply
  • 3. Katy  |  February 2, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    These look amaaaaazing. I am currently cursing the fact that I live in a dorm and can’t actually do any baking. It’s really kind of tragic..
    But I’m glad you haven’t gotten any more negative comments lately! :)
    Hope all is well!

    Reply
  • 4. Loreena  |  February 2, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    These look delicious, I think I’m going to have to make doughnuts now!

    Reply
  • 5. Loreena  |  February 2, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Ps.
    Yeast is not as scary as it sounds :). Keep going!

    Reply
  • 6. JoJo  |  February 2, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    ok now I totally want to make doghnuts!! You inspired me!

    Reply
  • 7. Memoria  |  February 3, 2010 at 12:31 am

    I love your profile pic!! You are too cute!!

    These doughnuts look amazing. I want some!

    Reply
  • 8. linda  |  February 3, 2010 at 4:58 am

    hey elissa,

    you are growing in so many ways & it is wonderful to “watch.”

    i have not tackled yeast on my own (in a class, yes) so i am going to go for it & bake these babies.

    lovely & insightful post!

    Reply
  • 9. Sis  |  February 3, 2010 at 5:57 am

    Donuts are my FAVORITE! And being a photographer myself, I am so delighted by your photo of the sprinkles – excellent light and depth of field on that one, it really stands out and is beautiful.

    I gotta try these. Fooey on dieting, at least for this Saturday! LOL

    Reply
  • 10. Amanda  |  February 3, 2010 at 6:42 am

    I conquered the yeast beast a while back and I didn’t think it was too bad either. Now my big obstacle is frying. Ew. One day! :)

    Reply
  • 11. bob  |  February 3, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Ooh, these look great! I know exactly what you mean about yeast– my mom makes perfect bread, and even though she’s shown me how millions of times, I’m always afraid to make my own because of that darned yeast. So much can go wrong, though granted, we both use the “touch-and-feel” method for our breads.
    But these doughnuts look perfect and that crumb looks just heavenly! :D

    On another note, I recently found your blog and I have to say, I’m really excited for you. It’s so awesome to see a 17-year old interested in baking. It’s turning into a lost art anymore, and many kids seem more preoccupied in other things. I, too, have been baking from a young age and reading your blog reminds me of how fun it is to create delicious foods to share and enjoy. So good luck in all your future endeavors and keep baking! :D

    Reply
  • 12. Jill  |  February 3, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Eeek, donuts! I am rather irrationally terrified of making 1) yeast-risen sweets that 2) require frying. You make it seem like maybe it’s not so scary… Plus they look fantastic. One question: what did you use to fill the jam and curd-filled ones?

    Reply
  • 13. tianne  |  February 3, 2010 at 10:12 am

    they sound so yummy! how do you inject the jam??? silly question i know.

    Reply
    • 14. Elissa  |  February 3, 2010 at 2:36 pm

      Jill and Tianne – I should have mentioned this! I filled a piping bag fitted with a round, open tip with the curd/jam and simply stuck it in the side of the doughnut. Then I gave a little squeeze to fill them and pulled the piping tip out.

  • 15. KatyR  |  February 3, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Mmmmm I love donuts. I bet you could make an faux funnel cake with those scraps too!

    Reply
  • 16. Shannon  |  February 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Really glad I found this site!! I heart reading your entries and seeing your journey. I’m looking at getting back into baking and reading this blog as well as others is sparking my creative juices again! I came from being a Pastry Chef.. to working in a Financial department behind a desk. I miss baking. Keep the love alive and the spark flowing! You’re a true inspiration… Now to find a company willing to take on a rusty baker that dies for baking bread and decorating cakes ( My two specialties ) Yeast is your friend.

    Quick tip, if you aren’t sure your yeast was good in the dough try taking a ball and putting it into a cup of water. If the ball floats the yeast is fine, if the ball sinks it was bad yeast and try again. If your dough still isn’t rising try making the air around it humid and hot ( I find a tea kettle works wonders) it might just be cold.

    Bake on my friend, Bake on!

    Reply
  • 17. Ana  |  February 3, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I want so bad eat all! Looks delicious…

    Reply
  • 18. Mandy Gross  |  February 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    That is an amazing story! It actually inspires me to try more new things that i’m scared to try! I recently tackled french macarons too. They were okay but I think I can do better! So I’ll be trying again sometime! Also, I think i’m going to make a wishlist of things to try, that’s a good idea. Thanks for the inspiration! Good luck on your banquets! From what I can tell I think you are going to do great! :)

    Reply
  • 19. Jessica  |  February 3, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    These are a whole lot different than frying up the pre-made Pilsbury dough then coating them with sugar!! Haha—I think I am going to step-up my game and give these a whirl with my boys! They look fantastic! :)

    Reply
  • 20. Tiffany  |  February 3, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    I love donuts.

    Reply
  • 21. Tami  |  February 3, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    my 4 yr old son just asked if we could make donuts tomorrow like 5 minutes ago! i had better take this as a sign

    Reply
  • 22. Tracey  |  February 3, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Mhmm…These look delicious! Your photography is gorgeous. I have made this recipe before and agree that it is a winner. Nothing beats fried dough! Congrats on overcoming your fear of yeast!

    Reply
  • 23. Margarita  |  February 3, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Oh, I wish I could eat everything I see. Yummers!!!!!!!! I, especially love that last picture of the multi-colored sprinkled doughnut, beautiful and festive. I can eat it with my eyes. :)

    Reply
  • 24. VEGirl  |  February 3, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Hi Elissa,
    I recently found your blog, and it is so inspiring. I’ll be fourteen at the end of February and I am a passionate baker, too. I love finding other teens who share some of my passions, and I say keep up the great work! I have a blog as well, though not as long going as yours. As a gluten-free vegan baker still learning the mysterious ways of creating baking from scratch, I don’t have too many recipe, but I will as time goes on!

    Once again, thanks for the inspiration,
    VEGirl

    Reply
  • 25. VEGirl  |  February 3, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Hi again,
    I’m also trying to figure out photography with my recently acquired Canon digital Rebel xt. Any tips?

    Thanks, VEGirl

    Reply
    • 26. Elissa  |  February 4, 2010 at 10:16 pm

      VEGirl – I’m pretty amateur when it comes to photography, but when it comes to food these seem to be the biggest tips: shoot in raw, use filtered natural light, avoid flash, use a tripod and a low ISO, and get photoshop ;) Here is (in my opinion) the best link ever for food photography: http://veganyumyum.com/2008/09/food-photography-for-bloggers/ I’m a lot less helpful when it comes to non-food photography, I just point and shoot with my fancy Canon, haha.
      (Thanks Sis for jumping in!)

  • 27. CC  |  February 3, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Hi Elissa,
    I just recently found your blog and love your work. I love to bake and when i found your blog i was soooo excited. You have inspired me to want to bake more than just the ordinary batch of chocolate chip cookies and to test myself in what else i can do in the kitchen. So i just wanted to say thanks :)

    Reply
  • 28. Jenious  |  February 3, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Hi darlin’,
    I haven’t commented in sometime as I can’t read blogs while at work anymore (I know, such torture). But, I was able to pop by tonight and am so proud of you for taking on what isn’t familiar—just going with the flow of it all. Brilliant outlook.

    And, that last photo is scrumptious!

    Reply
  • 29. Mrs Ergül  |  February 4, 2010 at 12:56 am

    Like many, I have been wanting to make donuts too! You inspired me! I really like how you write for a 17-yr-old! keep it up girl!

    Reply
  • 30. Sis  |  February 4, 2010 at 5:22 am

    I hope Elissa doesn’t mind, but I’m jumping in with a comment to VEGirl ~ I haven’t read it but have seen countless recommendations for new photographers to get and read “Understanding Exposure” by (I think) Brian Peterson. It’s supposed to be a really good place to start.

    Reply
  • 31. Astrid  |  February 4, 2010 at 9:33 am

    You are certainly a very daring, strong, passionate girl. I am so happy that the disparaging comments have left. You don’t deserve to be met with unkind words. Look at what you do! You make awesome doughnuts and other treats. By the way, I am contemplating making the tiny little peanut butter buttons for a pot luck. They look way too adorable.

    Reply
  • 32. Eliana  |  February 4, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    As boring as it may sounds to some, you are so right – There is nothing more comforting that a “routine”.

    Reply
  • 33. Helen  |  February 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Elissa!

    Discovered your blog through The Bloggies, and you’ve inspired me to take up baking!

    I have a question that has nothing to do with this post- what can i use as a substitute for shortening in your lil peanut butter choc chip cookies? I’ve been meaning to make them for weeks but cant find any shortening here in the UK.

    Thanks! Much love <3

    Reply
    • 34. Elissa  |  February 4, 2010 at 10:08 pm

      Helen – You can just use butter instead of shortening. I’ve never tried making the cookies with butter, but I’m pretty sure it will work out fine. Let me know how they turn out! :)

  • 35. Jaime  |  February 4, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Congrats – yeast isn’t as scary as it seems, is it? I just recently conquered my fear of it – first soft pretzels, then real live bread yesterday :) I think I’ll try yeast donuts next!

    Reply
  • 36. gretta  |  February 4, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    YUMMY!

    Reply
  • 37. Cookin' Canuck  |  February 4, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Well done facing your fears with yeast doughs. It looks as though you did a fantastic job with them. And may I say that your writing and photos really are extraordinary.

    Reply
  • 38. Jenilee  |  February 5, 2010 at 7:27 am

    I am so impressed with you and your cute self! I just stumbled upon your blog, and I love it! Your photography and baking is amazing! Go girl!

    Reply
  • 39. Vyshnavi  |  February 5, 2010 at 7:53 am

    You are an AMAZING photographer and baker.. You have inspired me to bake. Thank you and keep up the AWESOME creations!

    Reply
  • 40. Abby Raber  |  February 5, 2010 at 7:54 am

    I recently found your blog and just wanted to tell you that I think you’re crazy talented. Keep up the wonderfully delicious work. You are on to something…

    I’m 25…and completely jealous of you being such an awesome 17 year old!

    Looking forward to the next post!

    Reply
  • 41. Ivona  |  February 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Elissa, in Croatia these are the typical doughnuts (like the one in your first photo)- a custom sweet for Mardi Grass.

    I have to say that first image is exactly like my grandmother’s who makes them every year without fault.
    Congratulations!

    Reply
  • 42. jailynnsbakery  |  February 5, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    now u’ve given me the idea of posting my aunt’s doughnuts recipe in my blog …. but i’ll make yours still!!! hehe
    xo!

    Reply
  • 43. Wren4.0  |  February 5, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Hey Elissa! So I was helping out with the Haiti Relief Concert because I’m on Stage Crew and I was backstage. I hadn’t done it before, but the others did already have experience with working backstage. It was frustrating, especially when I wanted to be much more helpful than what I managed to do. Then I thought of your latest post, and I decided to not lose hope and just give up. And then I knew I should do backstage work when given the opportunity because I don’t want to give up. So thanks for inspiring me to keep on going.

    Reply
  • 44. Taylor  |  February 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    I always love your photography. Those doughnuts look great!

    Reply
  • 45. Lucy  |  February 6, 2010 at 5:41 am

    Your internship seems to get more and more interesting – you must be loving every moment. Me, I’m loving these jammy doughnuts – omg they look amazing. And the doughnut holes look dangerously irresistible :)

    Reply
  • 46. Grace  |  February 6, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    This look amazing! I’m going to give them a shot next weekend when I can use my mom’s fancy deep fryer! How do you inject the jelly/lemon curd? thanks

    Reply
    • 47. Elissa  |  February 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm

      Grace – I should have mentioned this! I filled a piping bag fitted with a round, open tip with the curd/jam and simply stuck it in the side of the doughnut. Then I gave a little squeeze to fill them and pulled the piping tip out.

  • 48. Lola  |  February 7, 2010 at 4:43 am

    DOUGHNUTS! I’m constantly craving the circles of heaven, so I will definitely be attempting this recipe. You’ve answered my dreams!!!!

    Reply
  • 49. Tanya  |  February 7, 2010 at 6:14 am

    These look great! How do you fill the doughnuts with jam?

    Reply
    • 50. Elissa  |  February 7, 2010 at 9:41 am

      Tanya – Hi, I’ve actually answered this question twice now in the comments – scroll up! :) I’m going to add it into the post now too. I used a piping bag with a plain round open tip and just stuck it in there!

  • 51. Mel  |  February 7, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I found your website via Joy the Baker, and I’ve checked it daily for the past week. Thanks so much for the great posts and recipes! I just finished making the donuts, and I’m grateful for your inspiration. We got over a foot of snow yesterday, and the donuts will be the perfect snack when we come in from the snow:)

    Reply
  • 52. kimandthi  |  February 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Those donuts look absolutely amazing, great job! Lovely photography as well.

    Reply
  • 53. Kerry  |  February 7, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    I just made these. And had to write about them myself! They’re so beautiful. Thanks for the encouragement!!

    Reply
  • 54. tiff  |  February 8, 2010 at 1:18 am

    I’m assuming that for the filled donuts (like the one shown at the very top of the page), you skip cutting out the donut hole but otherwise proceed as usual?

    Reply
  • 55. Elizabeth  |  February 8, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Ok, youv’e made me want doughnuts so bad. They look amazing! And congrats on finally using yeast! I haven’t made it to that level quite yet, but someday I will try it out and hopefully will have as much success as you did! I am also seventeen and I absoultely LOVE your blog! Your photographs are amazing and the food, well im practically drooling.

    Reply

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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I want to read everything. #TheStrand Mmmmm... Green tea chocolate lava cake! #spotdessertbar Last night I sat in @StephenColbert's chair. My life is now complete. AHHHHHHHHH! #ColbertAudience Yay! Spontaneous mid afternoon macaron break. @bouchonbakeryrc Ohmygosh! Strawberry and tarragon gelato! FAO Schwartz is equal parts chaos, commercialization, and crazy happy joy About to eat my first Pink Lady apple! (More like Red Red Red Lady.)

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