These Are Not Just Desserts...

No dish can match the glamour of a truly artful dessert. Michael Bateman tracked down recipes from 20 of Britain's very best chefs for an exceptional taste of the Nineties
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Top 20 Desserts: Part 1

This week we present the first of a two-part series on the best desserts in Britain. Marco Pierre White has said that the quality of the bread sets the tone of a meal but, for sure, it's the dessert that can really turn a meal into a celebration.

In the French kitchen, the complicated arts of the patissier, the chef who makes the desserts, raises him or her above the other cooks. The apprenticeship is demanding. Cooking with chocolate requires the mind of a chemist as much as cook. Pastry-making is a science as much as an art. Working with sugar is a craft requiring immense practice and cannot be instantly absorbed watching TV's Ready, Steady Cook.

But not every delightful dessert follows the classic mould of parfaits and sabayons, bavarois and pralines, tarts and gateaux. So, conscious of a new spirit abroad, we asked a panel of the major restaurant guide editors (from the Ronay Guide, the Good Food Guide and the Michelin guide) to nominate 20 favourite desserts for the Nineties.

The obvious candidates were the chefs in the best-established restaurants - those who have won two or three Michelin stars; or scored nine or 10 for cooking in the Good Food Guide; or been winners of the Ronay Guide's annual awards for best dessert. Thus we embrace old favourites such as Michel Roux and Nico Ladenis as well as new stars such as Jean-Christophe Novelli and Gordon Ramsay.

But we have also grasped the nettle of new wave eating. Over this week and next, we will be including a novel American-Japanese pineapple soup from that fashionable New York import, Nobu, the res-taurant which feeds the soigne clientele of the Metropolitan Hotel in Park Lane. And we brave what sounds like a reckless Cashel Blue Pannecotta from Stephen Terry at Coast in Mayfair. From the pioneering New Zealander, Peter Gordon, chef at the Sugar Club, comes a spin on the South Indian dessert, Vattalpam; and from TV lad Gary Rhodes, a jokey Wagon Wheel. We look beyond the metropolis, too. To Gidleigh Park in Devon where rising star Michael Caines offers his acclaimed fabrication of Chocolate Millefeuille with Lime Sorbet; to South Wales where Franco Taruschio has imported the ethos of his native Marche to the Walnut Tree; to Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire where Annie and Germain Schwab have created an oasis of excellence. And since it's unlikely that your own kitchen skills measure up to the demands these inspiring creations, we have noted at the end of each recipe the restaurants where you can sample the definitive version as made by the masterchefs themselves.

MICHEL ROUX'S FLOATING ISLAND WITH DATES

Michel is the leading patissier in the country, and the author of several authoritative books on the subject. It is 25 years since he opened the Waterside Inn where he displays virtuosity in the realm of desserts. First among many equals (all his desserts are best desserts) is this spin on the classic French Ile Flottante. He had the idea, he says, during his military service in North Africa.

Serves 4

120g/41/2oz caster sugar

20g/3/4oz softened butter

6 dates, stoned and halved lengthways

6 dates, finely diced

tiny pinch of ground star anise

For the meringue:

4 egg whites

85g/3oz caster sugar

For the creme anglaise with vanilla:

3 egg yolks

60g/2oz caster sugar

250ml/8fl oz milk

1/4 vanilla pod, split

To prepare the creme anglaise: In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with a third of the sugar to a ribbon consistency. Bring the milk to the boil with the remaining sugar and the vanilla and pour it on to the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Return the mixture to the pan and gently heat, stirring continuously, to 175F/80C, until the custard is just thick enough to coat the spoon. Do not let it boil. Pass the custard through a conical strainer into a bowl and leave until completely cold, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming.

Butter the inside of either a round heatproof basin or a stainless steel hemispherical mould - 16cm (61/2in) in diameter, at the opening, 8cm (31/4in) deep - with softened butter and arrange the 12 date halves, side by side, to within about 1.5cm (5/8in) of the top of the mould, placing the uncut surface against the mould.

Before preparing the meringue preheat the oven to 275F/140C/Gas 1. Using a bowl and whisk or an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until half- risen. Add the sugar and continue to beat until very stiff and well-risen. Add the finely diced dates and pinch of star anise and whisk for just a few seconds more. Pour the meringue into the mould and then gently smooth the surface.

Place on a baking sheet and cook in the warm oven for 20 minutes. Insert a fine metal skewer into the centre of the floating island to check whether it is cooked; the skewer should come out shiny and clean. Cook for a few minutes more if necessary. Leave the cooked floating island to cool at room temp- erature in the basin or mould for 30 seconds before unmoulding.

Using a tea towel to hold the mould, unmould the hot but not scalding floating island by inverting it a few centimetres above a round and shallow serving plate. Pour the chilled creme anglaise all round the floating island.

In a small, heavy-based saucepan set over low heat, dissolve the sugar without water, stirring continuously with a wooden spatula until is turns to an attractive caramel colour. Spoon an even coating of warm caramel over the top of the dessert and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes. The floating island can be served as soon as the caramel has set, about 15 minutes after coating. Let your guests help themselves with a spoon to the dessert and the accompanying creme anglaise.

The Waterside Inn, Ferry Road, Bray (01628 620 691)

RICHARD CORRIGAN'S FIG TART

Richard Corrigan, an Irishman with an instinctive sense of flavour, is one of London's most bullish chefs (he made his name with Stephen Bull). This innovative dessert owes its unique flavour to a pinch of tobacco.

Serves 6

8oz puff pastry

6-8 ripe purple figs

For the frangipan:

25g/1oz butter

25g/1oz sugar

15g/1/2oz ground almonds

1/2 tablespoon flour

For the tobacco syrup:

170g/6oz sugar

150ml/5fl oz water

2 level teaspoons pipe tobacco

pinch of cornflour

For the frangipan, combine all ingredients until smooth. For the tart: roll out a 9cm (4in) circle of puff pastry. Spread with the frangipan leaving approximately 2cm (1in) around the edges. Thinly slice the figs and arrange on top. Egg-wash the edge of the pastry. Brush the top of the tart with melted butter and bake in the oven at 400F/200C/Gas 6 for 12 to 15 minutes. For the tobacco syrup: make a syrup by bringing sugar and water to the boil. Turn off, infuse the tobacco in this liquid for 10 seconds, then strain. Dissolve a pinch of cornflour in a teaspoon of cold water and stir into syrup mixture. When the tart is cooked, drizzle the strained tobacco syrup over and around the tart. Sprinkle with a little fresh tobacco, dry heated in a pan to reduce moisture.

Lindsay House, 21 Romilly Street, London W1 (0171 439 0450)

NOVELLI'S BOITE SURPRISE AU CHOCOLAT

Jean-Christophe Novelli's desserts are infused with Gallic flair and passion. This one, as shown on our cover, is one of his more outrageous conceits.

Serves 4

4 squares of light sponge (ie Genoese) 6x6x1.3cm (21/2x21/2x1/2in)

a little brandy

For the chocolate mousse:

113g/4oz extra bitter chocolate

1 teaspoon brandy

5 egg whites

60g/2oz caster sugar

300ml/1/2 pint lightly whipped double cream

For the nougatine:

550g/1lb 4oz caster sugar

2 tablespoons liquid glucose

4 tablespoons dessicated coconut or ground almonds

To decorate:

90g/3oz peeled hazelnuts, lightly roasted

8 small strawberries

3 tablespoons icing sugar

For the cocoa sauce (optional):

8 tablespoons creme anglaise

2 teaspoons cocoa powder

Grease four moulds. Brush sponge squares with brandy and place one in each greased mould 5x5cm(21/2x21/2in).

For the chocolate mousse: melt the chocolate with the brandy. Whisk egg whites to soft peaks, then fold in the sugar. Fold chocolate into the meringue mixture. Fold in the whipped cream. Top each mould with the mousse and leave to set in the fridge for an hour.

For the nougatine boxes: cook the sugar and glucose in a heavy pan until you get a golden caramel. Remove from heat and pour on to lightly oiled greaseproof paper. Cool. When brittle, break up and place two-thirds in a blender with the coconut or ground almonds. Process to fine grains. On a non-stick baking sheet, sprinkle the powdered caramel in a thin, even layer, not less than 5x10cm (12x22in). Heat in a hot oven (425F/ 220C/Gas 7) or under a grill until the caramel has melted again and formed a glassy layer. Cool. Before the caramel has quite cooled, using a ruler and a very sharp knife, score into neat squares. You will need 24 - six per box. When cold, break off and separate.

Remove mousses from the moulds and stick a square of caramel to each side making the sides of the box. Cut the remaining two squares in half and, using the rest of caramel, heated as glue, stick the lids, open, on each side.

To decorate: dip the hazelnuts in the hot caramel and when cool enough to handle roll in the palm of your hand. Fill the top of the box with a cluster of hazelnuts. Holding strawberries by the stalk, dip them in the caramel and let it drip back in to form a long wand. Once the caramel has become hard, place two strawberries on each side of the nougatine boxes, crossing the wands.

To make the springs: coat the tip of a spoon in hot caramel and let it turn to form a thread. Coil six times around a knife-sharpening steel. This will set almost instantly and can be slowly pushed off the end. Stick four springs into the top of each box. Dust with icing sugar and serve with 2 tablespoons of custard. Dust the cream with cocoa powder.

! Novelli W8, 122-4 Palace Gardens, London W8 (0171 229 4024) and branches

GERMAIN SCHWAB'S DACQUOISE AND HAZELNUT DELICE

Annie and her Swiss-born husband Germain Schwab have made their restaurant in wet and windy North Lincolnshire into a destination dining room. Their desserts are sublime.

Serves 8

For the dacquoise hazelnut:

180g/6oz finely ground hazelnuts

165g/51/2oz icing sugar

55g/2oz flour

Meringue made from 8 size 2 egg whites, beaten until stiff; then 100g/31/2oz caster sugar folded in slowly

Sift icing sugar and flour, add to the hazelnuts. Mix this with the meringue. With a spatula, place small circles of the mix, approx 7cm (3in) in diameter, on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Cook at 350F/180C/Gas 4 for 15 minutes or until they start to colour.

For the chocolate biscuit:

6 egg yolks

280g/91/2oz sugar

6 size 2 egg whites

25g/1oz cocoa powder

Beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar until the mixture becomes pale in colour. Beat the egg whites then add the rest of the sugar, folding in gently. Sift the cocoa powder into the egg whites then gently combine all the ingredients together. Place the mixture into eight small circular moulds, approximately 7cm deep by 5cm in diameter (3x21/2in), and cook at 350F/180C/Gas 4 for approximately 10 minutes.

For the chocolate caramel mousse:

100g/31/2oz caster sugar

100g/31/2oz whipping cream

3 egg yolks beaten

180g/6oz (melted) dark chocolate couverture (cooking chocolate if you can't get it)

370g/13oz whipped double cream

Gently heat the sugar until it forms a dark caramel. Add to this the previously heated whipping cream. Pour this mixture over the egg yolks and stir gently until cooler. Add the melted couverture. When the mixture is cold fold in the whipped double cream.

For chocolate fondant glazing:

150g/5oz plain chocolate

450g/1lb chocolate couverture or cooking chocolate (melted)

200g/7oz sugar syrup

300g/10oz whipped cream

80g/21/2oz glucose

Melt together plain chocolate and chocolate couverture, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix gently with a wooden spoon and put to one side in a warm place.

To assemble the dacquoise: use one of the chocolate biscuit circles for the base of each dessert then place a disc of hazelnut dacquoise on top, after this a layer of chocolate caramel mousse, then another disc of hazelnut dacquoise. This should reach a height of approx-imately 7cm (3in). Freeze for eight hours. To finish, remove from freezer and pour over melted chocolate glaze, smooth all over the finished dacquoise. Garnish with sugar work and crisp tuilles. Delicious with poached pears.

Winteringham Fields, Winteringham, North Lincs (01724 733 096)

GARY RHODES' WAGON WHEEL PUDDING

Although best known as the laddish TV chef, Gary Rhodes is an immensely influential and skilful cook (having won Michelin stars at two different establishments). This creation was inspired by memories of the school tuckshop.

Serves 6

raspberry or strawberry jam, for spreading

For the marshmallow:

225g/8oz icing sugar

85ml/3fl oz water

25g/1oz liquid glucose

15g/6oz leaf gelatine soaked in water or 1.5x11.7g sachets powdered gelatine, dissolved in 4 tablespoons of water and gently heated until clear

1 egg white

cornflour for dusting

For the biscuits (makes 12-15):

225g/8oz butter

75g/21/2oz caster sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon maple or golden syrup

250g/9oz plain flour

For the chocolate topping:

100g/4oz good-quality plain or milk chocolate

150ml/5fl oz double cream

50g/2oz butter

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

First make the marshmallow. Mix the icing sugar, water and glucose together and bring to the boil. Simmer for two to three minutes. Add gelatine and as soon as it has dissolved pour on to the egg white in a mixing bowl. Whisk immediately (preferably with an electric mixer) to a thick, creamy consistency.

Dust a large shallow baking tray or dish - it must be at least 1cm (1/2in) deep and big enough to allow you to cut six 8cm (31/2in) discs - with the cornflour. Pour in the marshmallow mix. Refrig-erate and leave to set for one to one and a half hours. Once set, cut out six 8cm (31/2in) discs with a plain biscuit cutter.

Next, make the biscuits. Cream together the butter and sugar and then add the egg yolk and syrup. Fold in the flour and mix to a smooth dough. Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes.

Roll out to 2 to 3mm (1/8in) thick. Cut out 12 8cm (31/2in) discs, allowing two per portion, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden. Allow to cool.

To make the chocolate topping, melt chocolate with the cream in a bowl over simmering water. Once melted, add the butter and stir in. Remove from the heat to prevent the butter from becoming too liquid. The butter should have melted and emulsified into the chocolate mixture. If the mixture is a little too thin, leave to cool to thicken slightly.

Spread some of the jam fairly generously on to six biscuits. Sit a marshmallow disc on each and then spread some more jam on top. Finish with another biscuit on top to create a "sandwich".

For a perfect chocolate finish, spoon the chocolate mixture on in stages. First, sit the biscuits on a wire rack and set over a baking tray or plate and spoon some of the chocolate topping over to cover completely. Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes until set. Remove and turn the biscuits upside-down on the rack. Spoon more of the chocolate over the biscuits to cover. Refrigerate until set. Remove and spoon over any remaining chocolate (you might need to reuse some of the topping from the tray) for a smoother, thicker finish. Refrigerate and leave to set. For an even more luscious ending, serve with a trickle of pouring cream.

Note: This pudding can be made fruity by placing fresh raspberries or strawberries on top of the marshmallow and finishing as above.

City Rhodes, 1 New Street Square, London EC4 (0171 583 131)

CREME CARAMEL

FROM NICO LADENIS'S GRAND PLATE OF ASSORTED MINI-DESSERTS

If a meal at Nico's is a symphony, his most asked-for dessert is a fitting climax, a firework display of colours, an anthology of tastes and textures, exhibiting all the skills of the patissier's art. We do not have room for all 10 recipes. For a taster, his superb creme caramel.

4 egg yolks

300g/10oz caster sugar

500ml/16fl oz milk

vanilla extract to taste

50ml/2fl oz water

a little Grand Marnier (optional)

Whisk the four egg yolks with a third of the sugar in a bowl until lightly creamed. Then bring the milk to the boil, and whisk slowly into the egg mixture. Put the mixture into a clean pan and cook over a medium heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the custard will coat the back of the spoon. Pass the mixture through a sieve, then flavour with vanilla extract to taste.

Make a golden-coloured caramel syrup with the remaining sugar and the water. Line four individual moulds with a little of the caramel and leave to set. Then pour in enough custard to fill each mould. Prepare a baking tray deep enough to contain hot water coming three-quarters of the way up the sides of the moulds. Place the moulds in the tray and bake in an oven preheated to 350F/180C/Gas 4 for 15 to 20 minutes. When the custards are ready, remove from the tray, leave to cool and then chill in the refrigerator. For extra flavour you can add a few drops of Grand Marnier to the custard. Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane, 90 Park Lane, W1 (0171 409 1290)

PAUL VICKERY'S BAKED EGG CUSTARD TART

WITH NUTMEG ICE-CREAM AND BLACKCURRANT SAUCE

Paul Vickery stepped into Gary Rhodes' shoes at the Castle Hotel in Taunton, where owner the Kit Chapman prides himself on creating an essentially English cuisine. This dessert, however, which people drive hundreds of miles to sample, owes not a little to classic French antecedents.

500ml/17fl oz whipping cream

6 egg yolks

65g/2oz caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

15cm/6in sweetcrust pastry flan case, baked blind

grated nutmeg, for sprinkling

For the nutmeg ice-cream:

9 egg yolks

150g/5oz caster sugar

1.2 litres/2 pints milk

1 whole nutmeg, finely grated

150ml/1/4pint sugar syrup

300ml/1/2pint double cream

For the blackcurrant sauce:

500g/1lb fresh or frozen blackcurrants

125g/4oz caster sugar

about 300ml/1/2 pint water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

To make sauce, place blackcurrants and sugar in a liquidizer or food processor, add half the water and puree until smooth. Add lemon and enough of remaining water to get a smooth consistency. Pass through a fine sieve and chill.

To make the ice-cream, place the egg yolks and caster sugar in a bowl and whisk until thick and creamy. Pour the milk into a heavy-based pan, add the finely grated nutmeg, bring to the boil, then carefully pour on to the egg yolks and sugar and whisk together. Pour into a clean pan and cook gently, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a spatula. Remove from heat, pass through a fine sieve, then leave to cool.

When cool, add the sugar syrup and cream and freeze in a sorbetiere, churning until you have a soft, silky texture.

To make the custard tart, pour the cream into a small pan and bring to the boil. Whisk the egg yolks, caster sugar and vanilla essence together and pour on the boiling cream. Mix thoroughly and pass through a fine sieve.

Pour into the pastry case and sprinkle with a little nutmeg. Bake in a preheated oven at 325F/160C/Gas 3 for about 40 minutes. (Do not cook too quickly, or it will curdle.) Remove from oven, cool, chill overnight. To serve, place a wedge of tart on a dessert plate, with a spoonful of sauce and the ice-cream.

! Castle Hotel, Castle Green, Taunton (01823 272 671)

FRANCO TARUSCHIO'S CASSATA ABRUZZESE

NOUGAT AND CHOCOLATE CAKE

Franco Taruschio, from the Italian Marche region, came to the Welsh Marches to convert a country pub into a shrine to fine food. Everyone who really, really loves great cooking makes a pilgrimage here at some time. The simplicity of his cooking takes the breath away, and the quality of ingredients he uses is truly outstanding - the difference between gravel and gold.

Serves 12

100g/31/2oz torrone (Italian nougat)

50g/11/4oz almond croccante (brittle)

50g/11/2oz block good plain chocolate

300g/101/2oz butter softened and cut into pieces

6 egg yolks

200g/7oz icing sugar, sifted

50g/11/2oz cocoa powder

400g/14oz pan di spagna, (fatless sponge cake) baked in a round tin

200ml/7fl oz Centerbe liqueur (sweet)

Chop separately the torrone and croccante (both should be available from Italian delicatessens), and chocolate. Beat the softened butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, alternating with the icing sugar. Divide this cream into three equal parts. Add the torrone to one part, croccante to the second and chocolate and cocoa powder to the third part. Mix each of the creams thoroughly.

In a bowl mix one heaped tablespoon of each cream and reserve. Divide the pan di spagna into four discs. Drizzle liqueur over each disc. Spread one disc with torrone cream, a second with croccante cream and a third disc with chocolate cream. Layer, putting the fourth disc on top. Cover the whole cake with mixed cream mixture. Leave in fridge for at least six hours before serving.

! Walnut Tree Inn, Llandewi Skirrid, Monmouth (01873 852 797)

STEFANO CAVALLINI'S STRAWBERRY AND RHUBARB TART

VANILLA ICE-CREAM AND ORANGE SAUCE

The only Italian restaurant in the UK with a Michelin star, The Halkin goes for big-time sophistication, though Cavallini's sublime cooking is not as flamboyant as that of his former master, Milan's three-star Gualtiero Marchesi.

Serves 4

5 sieved cooked egg yolks

250g/9oz butter

100g/31/2oz icing sugar

1 vanilla pod

pinch salt

250g/9oz flour

For the orange sauce:

40ml/11/2fl oz orange juice

180g/6oz sugar

60ml/2fl oz Grand Marnier

fine slivers (julienne) of zest from 1/2 orange

200g/7oz strawberries

250g/9oz rhubarb

250ml/8fl oz water

250ml/8fl oz dry white wine

200g/7oz sugar

Mix the sieved egg yolks with the butter. Add the sugar, salt and vanilla and add the flour. Roll out and cut with a plain cutter 9cm (4in) in diameter. Cook in the oven for eight minutes at 350F/ 180C/Gas 4. Skin the rhubarb and cut into 4cm (2in) pieces. Cook lightly in the wine, sugar and water, and when nearly cooked allow to cool. For the sauce, boil the orange juice, sugar and julienne of zest for three minutes. Cool and add the Grand Marnier. Wash the strawberries and cut in half, then alternate the rhubarb and strawberries on the outside of the biscuit. Then place a quennel of vanilla ice cream in the centre and orange sauce around, and serve.

The Halkin, 5-6 Halkin Street, London SW1 (0171 333 1234)

GORDON RAMSAY'S TERRINE OF PINK GRAPEFRUIT, ORANGE AND PASSION FRUIT

A former professional footballer who won his spurs alongside Marco Pierre White, Ramsay now runs his own two-star Aubergine - a stylish restaurant often booked-up three months in advance.

Serves 8-10

6 pink grapefruits

8 large seedless oranges

6 passion fruits

200ml/7fl oz stock syrup made from 125ml/4fl oz water boiled for 5 minutes with 3oz/90g sugar and the zest of one lemon

5 leaves gelatine or 1 sachet gelatine crystals

2 large bananas

125g/41/2oz fresh strawberries, hulled

Using a small serrated knife, cut the tops and bottoms off the citrus fruits. Cut away the remaining peel removing with it all the membrane. Holding each fruit in your hand, and working over a bowl, cut out each of the segments leaving inner membranes behind. Discard pips. Place the segments on a clean tea towel to drain the juice and chill for two hours. Then place the segments on to a fresh tea towel to drain further and chill for another hour. This is necessary as the segments must be sufficiently dry not to leak into the jelly while setting.

Meanwhile, make a passion fruit syrup: halve the passion fruits and squeeze their pulp and juice into a sieve placed over a bowl. Rub the pulp and seeds through using a wooden spoon. Discard the seeds and mix the juice with the stock syrup.

If using leaf gelatine, soak the leaves in a bowl of iced water until softened, then remove and squeeze out excess water. Heat half of the passion fruit syrup until it boils. Remove from the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine until dissolved. If using gelatine crystals, sprinkle directly into the boiled syrup, whisking until dissolved. Mix in the remainder of the passion fruit syrup, then strain the mixture through a sieve.

Line a 1kg/2lb loaf tin with clingfilm, leaving an overhang of about 13cm (5in) all round which can later be folded over the top. Mix the syrup with the citrus fruit segments then spoon about one-third into the base of the loaf tin. Peel the bananas and arrange one of them, whole, lengthways down one side of the tin; place half of the strawberries down the other side.

Spoon over more segments and syrup. Arrange the second banana lengthways down the opposite side from the first one. Add the remaining strawberries, again on the opposite side from the first one. Finish by adding the remaining segments and juice. If you have leftover syrup, carefully pour it in, tapping the whole tin gently and allowing the syrup to find its own level.

Tug the sides of the overhanging clingfilm gently to straighten then fold it gently over on top. Place in the refrigerator to chill overnight or until firm.

About 15 minutes before you are ready to unmould the terrine, transfer to the freezer. Before serving, unfold the clingfilm, then invert the terrine on to a serving platter. Remove the clingfilm. Cut into slices about 2cm (3/4in) thick, ideally with an electric knife.

Aubergine, 11 Park Walk, SW10 (0171 352 3449)

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