ARTICLE

Pastéis de nata — Portuguese custard tarts

Of the many baking projects I've launched in the last ten years, only one has caused serious weight gain, burns and an absolute lack of fear of puff pastry. Portuguese custard tarts, known as pastéis de nata (cream pastries) or pastéis de Belém (Belém pastries) do something magical to many eaters. They are an enchanting combination of lightly crisp pastry layers and a very, very pleasant egg custard filling. And, of course, they're a little tricky to make at home.

Once I've started one of my projects I rarely drop the bone until I've exhausted most avenues. If I remember rightly, it took eighteen batches of tarts to develop the recipe which was published in The Age newspaper back in 2004. At the time there were no reliable recipes online or in any of the books I could find or friends could source, either in English or Portuguese. It's still the case that few published recipes are the real thing. Why? Because rather than admit failure, too many cookbook writers prefer to pretend they'll fulfill your dreams. If it fails, you'll probably assume you made a mistake.

Look through your cookbooks and magazine cuttings for a recipe for these tarts. A surprising number omit to show a picture of the final product or they make sure they dust the tarts so liberally with icing sugar and cinnamon that you've got no chance of seeing what happened to the custard. It's called cheating.

The greatest examples of Portuguese custard tarts have frightening burnt spots on the surface. That charring might at first seem unappetising, but it adds a lovely extra dimension to the flavour. For many home cooks, those spots are what seem to be the unattainable, essential marks of beauty. It is very difficult to get them at home, and it's wise to deprioritise such freckles and go for luscious interiors and texture instead.

A commercial kitchen has hot ovens. HOT. Without setting fire to your kitchen, you can't get there at home. But with luck and some experimenting, you might come fairly close to the commercial product.

A bit like my beloved macarons, it's rare to find a bakery in Australia that can make them properly. When I was writing the original article, I travelled near and far in Melbourne, hunting down establishments producing good tarts. After far too many wild goose chases, it transpired that, with the exception of one rural bakery producing embarrassing garbage, every café and restaurant in Melbourne was sourcing their tarts from a single bakery in Burwood, the Magical Munch Bar. I've seen no evidence that anything has changed in the years since. This producer is reasonably good, better on some days than other. For better tarts, you have to head to Sydney, where Fernandes Patisserie in Dulwich Hill and, apparently, La Patisserie and Sweet Belem in Petersham all make great Portuguese cakes and tarts.

Ironically, a photo of my tarts which for some reason doesn't appear on my original newspaper article online is visible (without permission) on a piece about Portuguese tarts in the Sydney Morning Herald.


Here's some of what I wrote in 2004:

Whether at a highway roadhouse, a dusty village café, or an upmarket town eatery, the tarts are everywhere in Portugal. They are as ubiquitous as lamingtons (and suffer similar quality assurance issues), but unlike lamingtons, there is one place – just one – which everyone knows serves the best in the land. In the waterside Lisbon suburb of Belém, a cavernous blue-tiled pastry-and-coffee house serves thousands upon thousands of custard tarts every day. And the tarts here, at the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, even have a special name: pastéis de Belém. Lisboetas (residents of Lisbon) and tourists alike flock to the Confeitaria, buying calorifically frightening numbers of tarts, neatly packaged in nifty cardboard tubes with little sachets of icing sugar and cinnamon. The impatient then rush to a bench in the nearby park, usually ignoring the grand scenery (the Jerónimos Monastery, and the Belém Cultural Centre), in order to devour the tarts at their peak of freshness, warm and soft. More prim visitors may actually dine at the Confeitaria, taking a coffee with their repast.

The custard tarts are as prominent a part of Portugal's national identity as meat pies are for Aussies, except that Australians don't generally write about, wax lyrical about, meat pies. But search the web for pastéis de nata, and you find an inordinate number of teenage bloggers extolling the virtues of these tarts, recounting their most recent tasting, reporting on their visit to the Confeitaria.

Pasteís de nata are a pain to make without good guidance, for two reasons: Firstly, most recipes in English are poor. Secondly, some recipes in Portuguese are pretty useless too. Thirdly, they are a maddening combination of two substances which need entirely disparate treatment – custard likes low temperatures, while puff pastry likes high temperatures. Fourthly, home ovens rarely reach the ideal temperature. Ok, so that was four reasons, not two, but I didn't want to scare you.

Below is my slightly revised recipe. You'll also find a good recipe, though slightly different, over at Leite's Culinaria. We wrote our respective articles at about the same time, as enthusiasm for these tarts reached its peak.

RECIPE — Pastéis de nata [UPDATED]

makes 10

As puff pastry requires high heat for 10-20 minutes, and custard curdles at high heat after just a few minutes, it is necessary to use thin puff pastry so that it cooks as quickly as possible. The custard is stablised slightly by adding some flour to the mixture, but is still fairly sensitive. That's why it's hard to achieve the burnt spots without curdling the custard.

Make the pastry first, up to a day ahead. Can't be bothered? Buy a reallllllly good quality puff pastry instead, though the result will be inferior. Follow the custard instructions carefully.


The ideal cooking temperature is probably 300-350C. Many ovens set to their maximum temperature will come close to this on the top shelf, but you need to know your oven. Convection (fan-forced) ovens generally cook hotter than standard ovens. Preheat your oven for at least 30 minutes.

You need standard size muffin pans (or my wonderful little tart pans ;) which are 3cm deep and 7cm wide at the rim). Non-stick pans are probably unsuitable, as most of the coatings only tolerate temperatures up to 230-250C.

If you want to make sure you get the hang of the cooking time in your oven, start by cooking just two or three tarts. Taste them once they've cooled a little (burns!). Your main goal is to cook the pastry well. I used to recommend prioritising the custard, but undercooked pastry just makes the tart less impressive. So it's better to accept that your custard might curdle (it'll taste a bit like bread and butter pudding), but if you can get the pastry cooked in under about 12 mins, you should have the best of both worlds. :)

Note that during cooking the custard will rise up and bubble and look distinctly unpromising.

Pastry
This is about enough pastry for ten shells.

70g plain flour
40-50ml cold water
1/4 tsp salt
55g butter

  • Make a puff pastry using the above ingredients. Instructions for making puff pastry (not 'rough puff' or 'flaky') can be found in most basic cookery books.
  • For this recipe, the pastry should be folded and rolled at least three times, but resting time between phases is less important.
  • If the pastry starts getting warm to the touch, it's time to refrigerate it for a while.
  • When finished, roll out the pastry to a 20cm x 10cm rectangle, 4-5mm thick. Then roll up the pastry into a log shape, like a rug or swiss-roll, with the long edges forming the ends of the log. The log will be 4-5cm in diameter.
  • Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

At this point, make the custard.

Custard
This is enough custard for 10-14 tarts, depending on the size of your pans.

22g plain flour (not more)
160g sugar
3 egg yolks
1 egg
300ml milk
approx 2cm x 4cm shaving of lemon rind

pure icing sugar and ground cinnamon, for sprinkling

  • Sift the flour and sugar together into a bowl.
  • Lightly beat together the egg yolks and whole egg.
  • Put the milk, lemon rind in a saucepan and gradually bring to the boil. Remove the lemon rind.
  • Pour half of the boiling milk over the flour and sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Add this mixture to the remaining milk.
  • Pour a few spoonfuls of the hot mixture onto the beaten egg and stir well. Then pour the egg into the flour and sugar mixture, stirring constantly until completely mixed. This is the finished custard, and should not be cooked further (unlike more familiar custard types).
  • Let the custard cool in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 300C or the maximum setting if your oven can't heat that high.

  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and with a sharp knife, cut 10 discs from the log, about 1cm thick. Some recipes say that you should now just press the disc into the pan, and up the sides, but this can be tricky, so I recommend first gently flattening the disc with a rolling pin to increase its diameter.
  • Press the disc into its pan, starting in the middle of the base, and working outwards, up the sides. The pastry will be thin, especially on the bottom.
  • Chill the pans briefly if the pastry has become too warm.
  • Place the pastry cases on a baking sheet or tray. If you find your pastry doesn't cook fast enough, using an aluminium tray may help.
  • Pour the custard into the pastry cases, leaving about a centimetre between the custard and the rim of the pastry.
  • Put the tray in the oven. Use the middle shelf for the first batch, and adjust if necessary for later batches. Bake for 8-12 minutes. If the pastry edges are browning very well then the tarts are ready. If you get brown spots on the custard, congratulations! (But don't bank on it.)
  • Once you've removed the tarts from the oven, let them cool for a few minutes, then remove them from their pans, and place them on a rack to cool. Try to resist the temptation to eat them straight away, as they are at their best when just warm.
  • Before eating, sprinkle the tarts with the icing sugar and cinnamon. Or not.

This batch didn't want to get any spots

This batch did get some spots. The pastry looks less good because the pans had been lined two days earlier, so the edges had dried a little before cooking.

And finally…

One of my goals after starting Syrup & Tang was to revisit these tarts and improve my recipe. So much time had passed and my baking skills had improved. As life would have it, with a different oven and different trays, I learnt more about baking in one or two further tests for writing this article. Happily, the recipe needed very few tweaks (mostly in technique).

Now all I need is a café pingado and a view of Lisbon…

For final entertainment, here's a really sweet video on how to make pastéis de nata. Unfortunately they're not quite the Portuguese thing, but this Brazilian take on them. The video is 8 mins long but is quite charming.

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COMMENTS

56 responses to “Pastéis de nata — Portuguese custard tarts”

  1. Manggy

    Ah, I remembered you mentioned somewhere (here?) that you were revisiting these. I forgot to tell you that you had read my mind– I developed a hankering for these out of the blue and wanted to make them. However, I didn't want to use my muffin tin– I wanted those disposable (or not– heh) aluminum mini-pie tins (about 3-4 inches diameter), but I couldn't find them at the shop where I was. Do you think it will take too long to cook if they were that large? How big is yours?
    If I had read your article in 2004 (and knew how to cook then) I would have asked you if there was any way at all to get the charred spots on the custard without curdling it. I think they are extremely appealing. I was thinking using a turbo broiler to bake them, or maybe finishing it off with a torch.
    There are a few producers here as well, most notably Lord Stow's Bakery (from Macau) and Breadtalk (from Singapore). I've only had the former but I think they're quite good. Granted I've never had the original in Portugal (hmm globe trotter :) but I'm not complaining :)

  2. Patsy

    I'm afraid the Magical Munch Bar in Burwood no longer exists. They moved to a bakery in I think Mill Park.

  3. Little Red Dot

    Duncan,

    What a pleasant coincidence to read your article this morning. I was on the bus in to work today and rode past a delivery van with tray upon tray of Portuguese custard tarts resting on the passenger seat. And they had the lovely burnt spots on top as well! I'm not sure about the rules for storing the tarts, but they were sitting there uncovered with the passenger side window down, so the thick haze and vehicle emissions may have added some extra smoky dimensions to the flavour.

    For about 3 milliseconds, I seriously contemplated jumping off the bus and asking the delivery guy for a few, but I consoled myself that in all probability, they were going to be pretty ordinary (classic case of sour grapes, I know).

    PS I haven't found a decent one here in Singapore yet.

  4. elra

    Duncan,
    That is very impressive, look absolutely delicious. I want to make it myself.
    I also watch the video, it was really fun watching the guy making the pastry.

  5. Y

    I love your thoroughness, Duncan. It's one of those qualities I've always wanted to possess.

  6. Thanh

    Magical Munch Bar is definitely gone. I remember when we last talked about this that you mentioned it and then I Googled it immediately and even rung them up, but they were no longer in existence.

    Your tarts look a lot nicer than the ones I made. The ones I made from your recipe tasted fantastic but looked horrendous. I poured way too much custard filling into each puff and the results were like Quasimodo, with a hunch extruding from the side. I'm going to make them again this weekend. Hopefully they look better this time. If not, they'll still taste great. Now I can have Portugese tarts anytime and don't have to get up at the crack of dawn and drive to Box Hill to hopefully get some from Carrington Cake Shop.

  7. Jack

    The company that makes the custard tarts for evryone around Melbourne is http://www.belembakery.com.au/, I saw them delivering to my local the other day.
    Duncan, I love your passion for baking yet my patience is far to low to deal with the failures, I'd rather support someone who makes them well.
    Those ones that i ate in macau may well be the highlight of my time there.
    Jack

  8. nzm

    Suddenly, everyone's writing about them:
    http://www.cuisine.com.au/recipe/easy_portuguese_tarts

    Love your site, Duncan!

    regards
    Michele

  9. Lucy

    My GOD.

    Duncan, you are amazing.

    Baking terrifies me, but, look, I might just give these a go…

  10. Cin

    The Antiga Confeitaria de Belém is the ONLY place worth trying the tarts at. My advice is not to bother with the others no matter how good they look!!!

    I'd better not let my husband know that you've worked out a recipe for them otherwise I may not get any sleep tonight while he's pestering me to try it out =)

  11. Anna

    Fantastic Duncan, thanks heaps for sharing! I think this, couple with Thanh's tips on his blog, will be a great guide. I've more or less decided that these are what I'm making this Sunday.

  12. pg

    Gack!!

    Scary confluences afoot!!

    The other day I was dreaming of these, as I was spoilt in the mid 80's to live with a Brazilian family in London, with their own cook.

    She'd turn these things out by the dozen, and there'd always be a few put aside for the poor Aussie nanny.

    And then, only last week, I was watching a back issue of Food Lovers Guide, and they showcase these on their Portuguese episode.

    It's fate, I tell you. Kharma. You must cook me a batch immediately. It's clearly fated, you see!

  13. Amelita (Squishy)

    Well here we go with the home made puff pastry again. I can't do it I am to afraid. Those tarts look absolutely adorable. Your passion for wonderful food still inspires me. Your site is looking wonderful as usual and your attention for detail is simply stunning.

  14. Emily

    Duncan,

    Your tarts must be smellable from Singapore. And my desire for a sweet treat has been heightened, as has my sadness. I cannot cook those delightful little things in an ovenless shoe-box apartment. Can I ask for you next project to have a charity focus for those poor sods who have kitchen confined to a microwave (shuuder shudder) and stove top…..

    Emily

  15. neil

    Jeez mate, can you write about offal or snails or something else? Frankly, I'm getting jealous of all this deliciousness on your site. Too much temptation!

    Stephanie Alexander writes about how a lot of sugar actually inhibits the curdling process, some weird Harold McGee thing going on apparently. I've followed her directions for lemon curd, bringing it to the boil over direct heat, without a problem. Your recipe appears to have quite a lot of sugar, so that may have an effect on any curdling; I imagine the amount of sugar would also affect how quickly the caramel forms into dark spots.

  16. Anh

    Duncan, I have been looking at your recipe for few days. it's on my mind so I just NEED to make these! Thanks for the recipe and inspiration…

  17. Hungrygirl

    Oooh I love these, I became addicted in Ericeira on the coast near Lisbon. I would go there in a heartbeat!
    I will have to try to cook them. Does the hot &humid weather matter?

  18. Nikki

    uh oh. now i've got a major craving for these. lovely lovely tarts you made there Duncan! Funnily enough I associate them almost immediately with Chinese restaurants.

  19. Cecília

    Hi! Cecília from Portugal

    In fact the way they made this in the video, with the syrup, is the way to make them also in Portugal, for the professional bakers. I own a bakery Shop and I tried several recipes de Pastéis de Nata and the best were made with the syrup. The most difficult, however is to bake them, due to the high temperature needed.
    Have you tried the brazilian way?

  20. Cecília

    As soon as I find my recipe. I'll send it to you, so you can give it a try! Who knows?

  21. Sam

    Made your custard and Leite's, but used bought puff pastry for both. Yours has a nice amount of sugar. I think Leite's was too sweet, but more intensely yellow (before being cooked). Having baked both in one batch and couldn't tell the difference between the two by appearance when they came out. I saw a recipe that suggests blind baking the pastry first. Seemed the right way to go for domestic ovens but the pastry became overcooked and hard! The custard, was just right though. More experiments later. Thank you….

  22. Sam

    Hello Duncan
    If you ever visit Bangkok pls check out Kanom bakery in Siam Square :
    (http://www.ka-nom.com/producthome.html). It's the 1st and only shop and sells decent Portuguese custard tart in Thailand. Since their opening a lot of imperonators emerged. None could match. It is their puff pastry that makes them special. The founder went on holiday in Hong Kong and saw a bakery selling Portuguese style tart (not Chinese ones), with queues spilling into the street. She ate the tart there and was hooked – enough to pay millions of Baht to find out the know-how and opened a bakery in Thailand. It was a hit!

  23. Sam

    Oops, it's me again. Have now sucessfully made a batch of delicious pasteis de nata from your recipe. You were right. Don't mess about with blind baking – not even with a domestic oven! My fan oven goes up to 230C, and it took 15 mins in all to bake. The odd brown spots make an appearance. Don't mess about with a blow torch to fake the spots, boys and girls. That was horrid.

    The next challenge was making my own puff pastry. My goodness, that was a chanllenge! If people aren't bored with my blabbering will write some more about that.

    Thank you for your recipe. Saves a lot of hard work for the rest of us.

  24. Jan

    Hi there,

    Well I am normally the type of cook who likes to fiddle about with things… unless I'm in a hurry! So I'm sorry to say, Duncan, that I have sinned against your lovely fiddly recipe and taken some SERIOUS shotcuts! (With quite pleasing results, actually!)

    Last night I had about 500 mL of bought custard that was nearly at it's due date, and a morning tea to go to the next day. So, I turned to the source of all answers – the net, as I was wondering if it is possible to make custard tarts with store bought custard AND store bought puff pastry. I came across your site and almost gave up on the idea, until I read about Sam's experiments with the bought puff pastry.

    So, thanks to Sam, I decided to take the convenience thing one step further and give it a go. I preheated the oven to 230C, added in to my store bought custard the 22g of flour and an egg for good measure, put circles of store bought pamapas puff pastry into my non stick pans and added in a good measure of custard.

    The result? After 15 minutes out came these glorious custard tarts (I won't call them patsteis de nata!) complete with brown spots!!

    I was quite chuffed! So for all you home cooks who are more into reading Super Food Ideas than the foodies' Delicious magazine… here's one for you!!

    :o) Btw… they were a hit at the morning tea today, too. All gone within 15 minutes of putting them out. Gotta love it!

  25. Azelia

    Hi Duncan
    I Came across your website during research on the 'pasteis de nata' or the Portuguese custard tart and found you actually knew what you're talking about, which makes a refreshing change from so many others. (I should know being Portuguese)

    Please continue with detail and depth on your chosen recipes as not only does it gives us an interesting read but shows respect for the chosen ingredients.

  26. Lingy

    Hehe I've been so bogged down to only reading your macaron articles. I love Portuguese egg tarts too, I've had pretty good ones in Macau. I shall follow this recipe someday!

  27. nana-ko

    whooot, just used your recipe for the first time – and have obtained the elusive spots!!
    pictures – [http://yfrog.com/441012837j] and [http://yfrog.com/9g1012835j]

    very happy with the result :D

    only one minor negative thing i have to say about it – it's a bit too sweet for me…
    i think i'll try it next time with only 145g of sugar (:

  28. Kitty

    I absoultely love these… I have made them 3 times already and I often make double the batch for my fiance to take to work for morning tea, to glowing reviews (with extra of course for me to have 1 or 2!)

    I have loved Portugese Egg Tarts since I was a kid and in my search I have seen several other recepies none of which go into as much yummy detail as this one. So thanks!

  29. Nadine

    Whilst I was living in Sydney and for every trip back there, I could not and cannot go past Pastelaria Caravela in Bondi Junction – Potugese cakes (and tarts of course) made with love (the custard differs ever so slightly every time; sometimes it is barely cooked – delicious!) by a Portugese family. I am very much looking forward to trying out your Pasteis De Nata!

  30. azélia

    Right Duncan – it's time I tackle these…it's been over a year now since having the blog and if you recall I wanted to make these then.

    What has made me so suddenly want to make them now? was this recipe a friend sent me this morning:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/8438192/Portuguese-custard-tart-recipe.html

    it got my blood boiling being it's in a national paper and all…ok I forgive the ready bought puff pastry…I get it…but the creme fraiche???? NO! no..no..no..

    There was a pastry shop very recently voted the best pasteis de nata also in Belém and I was hoping to pop over there during a weekend to try them but won't have a chance.

    If you remember my verdict on the custard of the pasteis de Belém was a real disappointment but the pastry was gorgeously thin and crispy. The best custard so far for me is the one in West London.

    So the plan is over the coming weeks/months is to go through recipes…and will be making yours first…I always link people to your article whenever the subject comes up including this morning on twitter. And I will even do the lousy creme fraiche version to prove a point. If you notice closely in the photo they have curdled but cleverly bright lights have been shined on them I'm guessing to disguised it.

    …and yes I am a OCD about them! :) a bit like with sourdough..and urm..Tortilla Espanola…caldo verde….yep just generally OCD.

  31. Ruth

    I have become quite obsessed with these, as apparently have quite a few others – has this thread really been going for more than six years!

    We held a Portugese tart competition at my workplace last year; with blind tastings and rating against objective criteria (yes, our obsession). Lots of the tarts, even from very fancy cafes, were quite below standard. I was surprised at how many tarts had stodgy or raw pastry, curdled fillings, no caramelisation etc.

    The standout winner was the tart from a small cafe, which is at the top end of Little Collins Street. Certainly the best I have ever tasted (though I wouldn't mind a trip to Portugal to check authenticity). It has light flakey buttery pastry and soft but caramel-kissed custard. Tarts are only baked on Thursdays and often sell out by lunchtime – so if you want to try them, you will need to plan ahead.

  32. azélia

    End of this week Duncan..going to start the journey of pasteis de nata recipes..starting with your recipe! Exciting!

    Fed up with seeing so many bad ones out there! Including adding cinnamon to it!

  33. Frangipani

    Hi Duncan
    I made Portuguese tarts for the first time last week using Tessa Kiros's recipe from Piri Piri Starfish her Portuguese cook book. The custard used sugar syrup and was perfect, the pastry was more like a rich sweet short crust though but the end result was delicious. To add to the degree of difficulty I have a gluten free cake stall at Wesley Hill Market near Castlemaine every Saturday morning and I used White Wings gluten free flour but my customers were very happy with the result. I've yet to find a good gluten free puff pastry but am still searching. My custard had a few singed spots but I used a blowtorch to finish off successfully.

  34. Francesca

    Hi, Duncan.
    Do you know any source for the traditional Portuguese tins, the individual ones in the actual size used in Portugal?
    I have searched the Web for them and so far found none.
    Thank you for any suggestion.

  35. Francesca

    Thank you, Duncan. Actually I have just found the individual tins and ordered them from Tucha Gifts in Newark. These tins are from Portugal so they should be the right shape and size for pasteis de nata. I know most people here use muffin pans but I prefer the single tins because of storage problems and they will also be easier to handle when pressing down the dough. Happy baking!

  36. jeannett

    Well, I'm gonna try this one…today.
    I'm Portuguese, from the Island of Terceira and was just at a local Portuguese bakery buying up 18 of these little treats. I tried to pry the recipe from the owner to no avail. I've tried at least 6 different recipes (both written in Portuguese and English) and none came even CLOSE to what I was hoping for. Some were so egg-y they were almost a quiche, some had the consistency of a mousse, and still others were just…gross. That was a few years ago, but I thought I'd give google one more shot at finding a replica…I'll let you know what comes of my experiment today! :)

  37. Nik

    Hi There,

    Very eager to try this recipe! Haven't had great results in the past, thought it was my inexperience but perhaps I can blame rubbish recipes! I'd like to make these for my Portuguese in-laws on Sunday. Would it be possible to make the pastry and custard on Friday and chill until ready to roll out, fill and bake on sunday? Thanks,
    Nik

  38. Rosalyn Bolt

    Have just made 24 of these and posted a photo of them on facebook. Some Portugese friends are drooling and want the recipe (I even got the burnt bits right). I would love to direct them to your recipe link and am asking permission to do so and put it on F/B. My daughter and I have been having coffee and pasteis de nata in a cafe in Bristol, UK. That and memories of Portugal gave me the boost to find a good recipe. Haven't been drawn to others as I liked all the information you put on yours. Hope to hear from you. Rosalyn

  39. Allison Vieira

    Does anyone know where I can get the pastry tins like the ones above? I have looked and looked the only ones that I can find are the fluted variety. Websites? US stores? Thanks.

  40. Maiken

    Am making them right now and am very excited! Miss them from Portugal! Thanks for the recipe :) I only have small paper cups and my oven goes to 250c only, so we will see…

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