Pain au Levain with citrus(ish) and seeds (BBB June 2018)

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BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: recipe for Pain au Levain with Lemon Juice and Sunflower Seeds, based on a recipe in “From the Wood-Fired Oven” by Richard Miscovich; taste transformations; justifying disobedience; information about Bread Baking Babes;

Bread Baking Babes (BBB): Pain au Levain

Making good bread is a matter of controlling variables; there is no one magic ingredient that, on its own, will elevate your bread to sublime status. – Richard Miscovich, From the Wood-Fired Oven, p119

Pain au Levain

This month, Cathy (Bread Experience) chose Pain au Levain, from a recipe in “From The Wood-Fired Oven” by Richard Miscovich, for the BBBabes to bake. I can’t help thinking about how I would have reacted before – even a year ago – to Cathy’s announcement. My heart would have been pounding and mouth dry as I tried to think of any excuse at all not to make this month’s bread. I was like Kaitlyn Bailey:

I had no experience making sourdough, so parenthood began with a thorough scour of the internet. I quickly learned that I was […] entering a cult-like subset of the baking world, whose members spend their weekends worshiping yeast cultures and driving far and wide in search of the perfect flour mix.
    One of the blogs I read insisted that sourdough couldn’t be made from a recipe, and instead suggested that a beginner start by spending time getting to know their dough and then just “follow their instincts.” Unfortunately, my dough wasn’t very chatty, and my instincts were telling me that I shouldn’t use the funky-smelling jar in my fridge for something I was going to eat.
– Kaitlyn Bailey, Sourdough starter: How I learned to love my yeast beast, Globe and Mail, 24 May 2018

But, thanks to Jane Mason’s book “All You Knead is Bread”, all that has changed. Our Mason starter, that has been valiantly bubbling since last July, is better than ever. The fear of making naturally leavened bread has gone entirely.

We LOVE our bread made with Jane Mason Starter!

I got Richard Miscovich’s book out of the library, started reading it, and began dreaming about having our own wood-fired oven….

From the Wood-Fired Oven Cover

    There’s a fire burning in your oven. You want to make Pain au Levain and your starter is ripe and ready to use. […] One of the important things you can do to ensure success is to RTF-read the formula! […] Being prepared in advance is the key for having a stress-free and successful day in the kitchen, backyard, or bakery. […]
    This is the bread I made in order to learn how to make bread. Lionel Vatinet taught me this bread when I was at the San Francisco Baking Institute, and it was in heavy rotation when I got back to Bettie. I was baking in our home oven as much as I could, but I had also started baking hearth breads at Windansea, the newest fine-dining restaurant on the Crystal Coast. They […] had a wood-fired oven built by a local mason from Alan Scott’s plans […] I learned how to bake and how to bake in a masonry oven at the same time.
    Pain au Levain means (roughly) “bread with leaven.” But it’s not just any leaven. Pain au Levain is a naturally leavened bread. It is a typical French sourdough that is long on earthiness and short on sourness.
– Richard Miscovich, From the Wood-Fired Oven, p76, 177

Here’s how things went in OUR kitchen:

BBB Pain au Levain diary:

5 May 2018 23:46 This sounds great. And I love Cathy’s rules. Now, if only we had a wood-fire oven!

* Use at least 30% of some type of whole wheat flour
* The remainder of the flour can be all-purpose. We used bread flour in the class but the instructor said it was Sir Galahad, from KAF, which is actually an all-purpose-type flour.
* Include some citrus flavoring of your choice – orange, lemon, lime
* Also include some seeds or herbs or both
– Cathy, message to BBBabes

11 June 2018, 09:06am Oh oh. It’s almost the 16th! I’d better get cracking!

Since we missed out on the lemon and fennel combo in April, here’s your chance if you like that combo, if not, pick something else.
– Cathy, message to BBBabes

I’ve been thinking about what citrus flavouring and what seeds to use. And we talked about it yesterday morning at breakfast. Even though we loved Jamie’s Orange Fennel bread, we both found ourselves turning our noses up at citrus flavouring in bread right now. We’re really liking bread that is just bread. If we want to add the citrus flavour, we’ll have the bread with marmalade….

But. I can’t be a completely disobedient BBBabe. I’ll add a little citrus: by throwing in some lemon juice. This will give me the opportunity to actually paid attention to the note that is on every bag of Rogers No-additive all-purpose, No-additive 100% whole-wheat, and no-additive dark rye flours: THE LEMON JUICE SECRET for baking bread naturally… To give your yeast breads superior lightness and volume, simply add your own natural dough improver … natural lemon juice … to your favourite yeast bread recipe. 1 tbsp for every 4-5 cups of flour.  

I might use a very small amount to have just a hint of citrus flavour. But no lemon zest. No herbs either. Just seeds. For the seeds, T came up with the brilliant idea of adding sunflower seeds. Yes!! I love sunflower seeds in bread. Maybe I’ll add a little flaxseed as well. (Hmmm, whole, and soaked overnight before adding them, or ground? I’ll have to to think about it….)

22:17 I’ve mixed the starter – this is WAY more starter than we use to make Tartine Bread. It’s easily twice the amount! It’s now in the oven with only the light turned on.

12 June 2018 09:01 Wow!! The starter was huge. And bubbly. And a little stinky underneath. But, now that it is mixed into the rest of the ingredients, the stink is entirely gone.

As I was measuring the ingredients, T came into the kitchen and, with a slightly troubled look on his face, asked how much lemon juice I was putting in.

me: Don’t worry. Not very much.
he: But how much?
me: I’m following the instructions on the Rogers flour bag – 1 tablespoon for every 4 or 5 cups of flour.
he: [looking relieved] Oh good. That means we’ll really be able to get a sense of how this bread tastes.

T loathes flavoured breads. I have to admit that I’m not wild about them either…. But we do love sunflower seeds in bread, so that’s what I decided to add.

Oooh, that reminds me! It has been ages since we had poppy seed bread. Remind me to make that next time. :-)

09:40 Mixing went pretty well but the dough seemed awfully dry. I felt compelled to add more water. I don’t know how much it was. It turns out that I am my mother’s daughter. Suffice it to say that it was “some” water, as in, “oh, I don’t know: enough”.

I realize now that I SHOULD have used all purpose flour to make the starter – as per the BBB recipe – exactly when will I learn to follow instructions? :lalala: That way, I would have been able to sift the whole wheat flour.

10:17 Wow. Dry dough! Apparently my “some” wasn’t “enough” after all. I squooshed in the salt and last of the water, hoping that would make the dough not so dry. Nope. So I splashed in more water.

10:21 Ah. That’s better! THIS time it’s “enough” water.

And speaking of salt, Cathy suggested reducing the salt and, in creating the BBB recipe, wrote “14 grams fine sea salt (I reduced the salt from 17 to 14 grams)“. Because we use Kosher salt, I decided to put the amount back to 17g.

    The proper ratio of salt to flour in handmade hearth bread is only 1.8 to 2.0 [baker’s] percent […], but this small amount plays a crucial role in makign high-quality bread. […]
    Salt slows the rate of enzymatic conversion and fermentation. Bread dough without salt will quickly overferment. Salt also increases the strength of the ionic bonds among the gluten strands. Without this added strength your dough will be loose and rip very easily; this is especially evident during shaping. Properly salted bread will also have a longer shelf life than bread with less than 1.8 percent salt; salt’s hygroscopic nature helps is retard microbial growth. […]
    An important thing to remember when using salt in bread dough is to weigh it, rather than measuring it volumetrically. Large crystals will yield less salt in any volume than smaller crystals, while 15g of salt is 15g, no matter how big or small the crystal size. The amount of sodium chloride within that 15g of salt, however, may vary. […]
    Is regular table salt okay? Yes. How about sea salt? Also fine to use, although you might want to reduce the ration if there are other mineral chlorides that make the final loaf taste too salty. Iodized? I try to avoid it, but it will do if it’s all you have. […] As long as salt is weighed, rather than measured volumetrically, the differences in the final loaves of bread made from different kinds of salt, if detectable, are subtle.
– Richard Miscovich, From the Wood-Fired Oven, p119

12:26 Oops!! I almost forgot about the bread!! I have only turned it twice so far. As I was folding in the (unsalted roasted) sunflower seeds a moment ago, I decided I’d better go ahead and preshape the bread. And we’ll bake it today, I think – to have for dinner tonight.

I WAS going to suggest baking it in the barbecue to pretend we have a wood-fire oven. But then reason prevailed. One experiment at a time….

16:17 I think this is the largest loaf we’ve put into our combo cooker!

17:32 Whoohoooo! It’s crackling!!

Pain au Levain

By dinner time (we like to eat late) the giant loaf had cooled nicely to have with left-over grilled pork medallions, asparagus, and cole slaw (creamy dressing).

Even with all that extra water I added, the holes weren’t even close to as dramatically varied as in the book photo. This could be because of a tactical error on my part. I was obedient (mostly) and followed Cathy’s rules by using 30% whole wheat, but most of that was in the starter. Next time, I’ll use all-purpose flour in the starter and then sift the whole wheat before adding it to the actual dough.

Pain au Levain

T and I have made paradigm shifts: I now prefer “white” bread and he is liking whole grain. But both of us find this bread a bit too whole-grainy for the summer. We think it would be GREAT with a hearty fall stew.

But don’t get me wrong. This bread is good. It was delicious with dinner.

Pain au Levain (BBB)

Many thanks for a great choice AND for introducing us to Richard Miscovich’s book, Cathy!

Here is the BBB recipe for Pain au Levain that we were given. And here is what I did to it:

Pain au Levain with Lemon Juice and Sunflower Seeds
based on a recipe in “From the Wood-Fired Oven” by Richard Miscovich

for 1 large loaf

Leavener (Levain)

  • 44g bubbling Jane Mason whole wheat starter from the fridge
  • 225g 100% “no additives” whole wheat flour (The BBB recipe calls for all-purpose flour.
  • 225g room temperature water

Next time, I plan to switch to using unbleached all-purpose flour for building the leavener and, to keep the integrity of our starter, reduce the amount of flour and water to 203g each. Then I’ll feed the starter separately with 22g each of water and 100% whole wheat flour.)

Actual Dough

  • flour (the BBB recipe calls for a total of 690g: 415g all-p and 275g ww)
       » 480g unbleached “no additives” all-purpose flour
       » 175g “no additives” 100% whole wheat flour
       » 20g wheat germ
       » 15g whole flax seed, finely ground
  • liquid (the BBB recipe calls for a total of 400g water)
       » 15g lemon juice
       » 360g water, at room temperature in summer; at body temperature in winter
  • 17g Kosher salt (the BBB recipe calls for “14 grams fine sea salt”)
  • 75g sunflower seeds
    1. (see salt is salt, right?)
  1. leavener: In the evening before baking the bread, put all the leavener ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Using your dough whisk (use a wooden spoon if you don’t have a whisk), mix the leavener ingredients until all the flour is incorporated. Put 44 grams back into the jar in the fridge. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it overnight in the oven with only the light turned on (or on the counter if the nights are warm).
  2. dough: On the morning of the day you will be baking the bread: When a small forkful of the leavener floats in a small bowl of room temperature water, you can go ahead and mix the dough. (If the leavener does not float, stir in a little more whole wheat flour and water – even amounts by weight – cover with a plate and leave for about 30 minutes more. Chances are that it will now float.) Sift the whole wheat flour into a large mixing bowl. (Set the bran aside for after shaping….) Add all-purpose flour, wheat germ, and ground flaxseed to the whole wheat flour. Add all the leavener. Use a wooden spoon or dough whisk to mix these ingredients to make a rough dough. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter for about 40 minutes. Richard Miscovich writes, [Autolyse] helps reduce mixing time, enhances extensibility, and gives the flour an opportunity to absorb more water—an effortless way to increase hydration. […] The term, which roughly means “self-relaxation” or “self-dissolution,” refers to breakdown of weak gluten bonds by protease enzymes naturally occurring in the flour, aiding extensibility and oven spring. […]
        Withholding yeast[, if using,] and salt for the autolyse period allows continued breakdown of gluten bonds, creating a soft dough that will re-form into well-organized, linear gluten strands once yeast and salt are added and the dough is kneaded. […]
        Following the 20- to 30-minute autolyse period, […] add the salt and mix until it nearly dissolves, at least a minute. The dough will become firmer once the salt is added (a baker might refer to this as the dough “tightening”). At this point, all the ingredients except inclusions should be in the bowl and incorporated. it is now time to develop the dough—the kneading part of the process. (Inclusions—olives, nuts, or other ingredients—will be introduced to the dough after it has been developed.)
    Richard Miscovich, From the Wood-Fired Oven, p80
  3. adding the salt: In a small bowl, whisk the salt into the final 25g water. Pour the salt mixture over the dough.
  4. kneading: Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl – this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy and seem like it’s coming apart. Persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
  5. stretching and folding: About 30 minutes after adding the salt, run your dough-working hand under water. Reach down along the side of the bowl and lift and stretch the dough straight up and almost out of the bowl. Fold it over itself to the other side of the bowl. Turn the bowl and repeat until it’s a little difficult to stretch the dough up any more. You’ll notice that the dough feels significantly smoother. Cover with a plate and leave on the counter (or if the kitchen is cool like ours in winter and early spring, into the oven with only the light turned on) for about 30 minutes.
  6. Repeat the above step 2 or 3 more times (In his book, “Tartine Bread”, Chad Robertson says this step should be done 4 times in all). On page 82 of his book “From the Wood-Fired Oven”, Richard Miscovich writes “Folding the final dough greatly increases its development and adds to its maturation. The often sough-after gluten window test of a thin extensible dough membrane is not necessary at the end of mixing. Be patient. Let you dough ferment and fold it. It will become strong, fluffy and extensible by the time you […] shape it”
  7. For the final folding time, scatter some of the sunflower seeds on top of the dough before digging down to make the first fold. Before each turn of the bowl, gradually add the rest of the sunflower seeds to encorporate them evenly.
  8. preparing the brot-form: Put rice flour into a brotform and distribute it as evenly as possible. (If you don’t have a brot-form, you can line a bowl, basket or sieve with parchment paper. You can also use a liberally rice floured tea towel (but then you have to deal with a floured tea towel once the bread is baked). If you do not have rice flour, you can use wheat flour. However, it makes it significantly more difficult for the bread to be released from the basket…. Sprinkle the reserved bran evenly in the basket.
  9. preshaping: Scatter a dusting of wheat flour on the board and gently place the dough on the flour. Using wet hands, stretch the dough into a longish rectangle, then fold it like a letter, gently patting off any extra flour that might be there. Cover the folded dough with a large overturned stainless steel mixing bowl and allow it to rest for about 20 minutes to, as Cathy wrote in the BBB recipe, “allow the dough structure to relax“.
  10. shaping: With floured hands, gently but firmly shape the dough into a ball. Place it seam side UP in the well floured (rice) brot-form. Cover the shaped loaf with the overturned stainless steel mixing bowl and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on until it has about doubled and there are bubbles (the time varies, depending on how warm it is in the kitchen – this time round it took about 2 hours).
  11. baking: To know when it’s time to bake, dip your index finger into flour and gently but firmly press it on the side of the bread. If the dough springs back immediately, recover the bread with the mixing bowl and leave it in the oven with only the light turned on. If the dough gradually returns back after being pressed, leave it on the counter, and put the combo cooker (or a cast-iron frying pan and stainless steel bowl) into the oven to preheat all to 425F.
  12. When the oven is preheated 15 to 20 minutes later, put a square of parchment paper on the counter (the paper should be large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the frying pan). Overturn the shaped bread onto the parchment paper. Using a lame (or scissors, or serrated knife), score the bread with a single line in the center. Take the pan and bowl out of the oven (wear oven mitts!!) and place the frying pan on the stove (to prevent burning your countertop…). Transfer the bread to the middle of the frying pan. Alternately, you can be bold like T and sidestep the parchment paper by overturning the bread directly into the hot frying pan and score the bread once it’s in the hot pan. Immediately put the lid of the combo-cooker (or stainless steel bowl) overtop like a hat. Put everything into the oven on the middle rack and immediately turn the oven down to 400F. Bake for 60-80 minutes in all, removing the hat 40 minutes into baking. The bread is done when the crust is a deep golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. In “From the Wood-Fired Oven”, Miscovich writes:
        Your personal aesthetic in how much color you like to bake into your loaves will help you decide the best loading temperature in your wood-fired oven. If you like a lighter color and a softer crumb, you can load at a higher temperature and bake for a shorter time than if you bake at a lower temperature for a longer time.
        For years I have loaded 680g Pain au Levain between 450°F and 475°F (232-246°C) and baked it for about 50 minutes, and I would consider it underbaked if the crust softened at all after it cooled. (p.97)
  13. cooling: When the bread has finished baking, remove it from the pan and allow it to cool on a footed rack before slicing and eating; the bread is still cooking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm bread (of course you do), reheat it after it has cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.


:: Leavener: Knowing that some people aren’t ready to step into the wonderful world of baking with wild yeast (I know I was like that for ages), Cathy wrote: If you don’t have or don’t want to use a sourdough starter, you can make an overnight poolish. In that case, you will need to add a bit of yeast (about 2%) to the final dough. – Cathy, June 2018 BBB recipe

:: When to add the salt and sunflower seeds: The BBB recipe says to add the seeds before adding the salt. As usual, I didn’t notice that instruction until I was typing this report…. :lalala:

:: Water amount If there is a lot of flour left in the bottom of the bowl after the initial mixing, throw a little more water into the dry part of the bowl to mix it into a sludge, then fold the rest of the dough into the sludge to incorporate it.

From the Wood-Fired Oven Cover [W]hole-grain flour may cut and abrade the gluten strands, preventing them from developing into the long, extensible strands that form the gluten matrix […] Whole wheat flour has a higher protein content than white flour. […] It’s also important to consider that protein quality is more important than protein quantity. A grain that has been properly grown, harvested, and milled may yield a 10.5 percent protein flour that’s better for bread baking than one with 11.5 percent protein that came from grain harvested too late in the season or improperly milled.
White flour to whole-grain (or other grain) flours. You may need to increase or decrease hydration, yeast, or prefermented flour when you change to a different type of flour. For instance, if you would like to replace the white flour in a formula with whole wheat flour, you will need to increase the hydration. Whole-grain flour absorbs more water, so increased hydration is required in order to achieve the same dough consistency.
Flax is such a useful plant! Couches are made of linene refined from flax stems. Old-fashioned linoleum—the genuine article, precursor to today’s vinyl flooring—was made by heat treating flaxseeds, colorizing them, and pressing them into a chouche-like material, scrim-thin. Ground flaxseeds oxidize quickly at room temperature and may become carcinogenic at high cooking temperatures. For those reasons, I grind flaxseeds immediately before incorporating them into the dough, and I leave flaxseeds out of the exterior seed mix to keep them from direct exposure to the high temperatures of the baking chamber. The interior temperature of a baked loaf cannot increase above 212°F (100°C) until all twater is completely evaporated, a point you won’t reach during the baking process unless you’re aiming for croutons.
– Richard Miscovich, From the Wood-Fired Oven, p116, 123, 199


The bread is equally delicious as toast for breakfast. With Seville Orange marmalade. To properly fulfill the citrus aspect. Because that little bit of lemon juice I put in isn’t apparent in the flavour at all. :lalala:

Pain au Levain Toast

      Bread Baking Babes BBB June 2018 Pain au Levain with Citrus and Seeds

Cathy is hosting June 2018’s Bread Baking Babes’ project. She wrote:

If there is any bread I could make over and over again, it’s Pain au Levain. In fact, I have made it over and over again the past few years and each time, it’s been slightly different.
It is not a sandwich bread per se, but it can be a lovely bread to take on a picnic. I have used it as a base for egg salad, and although It was a bit messy keeping the egg salad from dripping out of the holes in the crumb, boy was it good! I’ve also use it for grilled cheese sandwiches, and as a dipping bread, as well as for bruschetta. It also pairs well with wine and cheese.
– Cathy, in message to BBBabes

We know you’ll want to make Pain au Levain too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the bread in the next couple of weeks and post about it (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 June 2018. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to email the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.

Please note that it’s not enough to post about your bread in the Facebook group. Because of the ephemeral nature of Facebook’s posts, your FB post may be lost in the shuffle. Please make sure to directly contact the kitchen of the month if you want to be included in the BBBuddy roundup.

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ June 2018 Nazook.


edit 18 June 2018: We can’t get over how this bread refuses to stale. We also noticed that the sunflower seeds didn’t get distributed very well. Oops!

pain au levain toast


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9 responses to “Pain au Levain with citrus(ish) and seeds (BBB June 2018)

  1. Tanna

    Gorgeous loaf here Elizabeth! Beautiful: score, height and color. You nailed it.
    I’m always looking for more whole grain so mine’s got nothing like your loft but we loved the flavor, texture and the long keeping time for this one.

    1. ejm Post author

      I used to always look for more whole grain, Tanna. I can’t believe the switch that has happened in our house! But. This bread is awfully good toasted with butter and honey. And doesn’t it stay fresh for eons?

      For bigger loft, try sifting your whole grain and adding the sifted bits to the outside or in the final folds. I love sifting whole wheat flour and feel certain that if I had built the leavener with all-purpose and sifted all the 30% whole-wheat to put into the dough, the loaf would have been immense.

  2. Cathy (breadexperience)

    Lemon juice and sunflower seeds. Yum! And don’t you just love it when the bread crackles!

    I’m so glad you joined the sourdough bandwagon. I do think the only thing that would make this bread better is to have baked it in the wood-fired oven. I’ve watched Richard bake loaves in a wood-fired oven and I too aspire to have one. We can dream right!

    edit: We imagined we might be able to give it a try, Cathy. There is a newly made wood-fire oven in the little park that houses our weekly farmers’ market. They make wood-fire pizzas there for the market so we asked. It turns out that the cost to use the oven is quite high – we’d have to hire a fire marshall as well as rent the time with the oven. So, here we are, back to dreaming. – Elizabeth

  3. Karen

    That is genius about the lemon juice. I’ve always heard that adding ascorbic acid really helps, so why not using the source for it! Your rise is amazing.

    edit: I’d heard that about ascorbic acid too, Karen. But I’d never really believed it could make that much difference. Ha. There I am: Wrong again. – Elizabeth

  4. Kelly

    Gorgeous color and pop! I always seem to have trouble with oven spring on cold retarded loaves. Nice, shiny crumb, you did indeed put “enough” water in. :)

    1. ejm Post author

      We were having trouble with getting good oven-spring on cold retarded loaves last winter too. The bread was over-rising. It’s unlikely that the fridge was not cold enough but there was obviously something happening before the refrigeration process that was causing the over-rise. So we stopped doing the cold retard entirely. Problem solved!

  5. Katie

    So let me be certain that I understand this….
    You’re given permission, no, instructions to be creative and over-the-top and add interesting things to the bread and you opt for, dare I say it…. plain? Or almost plain?
    I am rather fond of sunflower seeds in bread myself, so I would be happy with your bread. And it does look lovely with marmalade

    1. ejm Post author

      I don’t know WHAT you mean. :lalala: It’s not even remotely plain! There are sunflower seeds in it. And I’m positive that the little bit of lemon juice made a difference….

      (And yes, it is very good with marmalade. It is also good with honey.)

  6. Katie

    Forgot – your asparagus is gorgeous!!!!

    edit: Thank you, Katie! It really was beautiful. Alas, the really good local asparagus is pretty much done now. We thought we were going to try your risotto but we just couldn’t stop having our asparagus simply steamed. It was sooooo good that way. – ejm


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