Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Really good red velvet cupcakes are elusive to many. Some are dry, some are TOO fake-red red. And what’s the story behind red velvet cake (and cupcakes) anyway? After doing a little research, I found that while foods were rationed during war time, bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes and to retain moisture. Red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel during the 1920s, and was also well-known in the restaurants and bakeries of the Eaton’s department store chain in Canada during the 1940s and 1950s. Many attribute the cake’s recent popularity to the film Steel Magnolias, in which the groom’s cake was a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo. All red velvet cakes have specific ingredients in common: white vinegar, buttermilk and baking soda; the reaction of the vinegar to the buttermilk is said to better reveal the red in the cocoa powder. I wasn’t always sold on red velvet, but I was eventually converted…

So now, on to my history with red velvet. I first tried it almost a year ago (January, to be specific) at a local Pittsburgh bakery. And to say that I was underwhelmed would be a gross understatement. After all of the buzz that red velvet had been receiving, I was expecting to be blown away. What I ate was pretty dry and tasteless (although the cream cheese frosting was good!). I wasn’t impressed (obviously) and it was about six months before I would try one again. During our little Georgetown cupcake tour, I had a red velvet cupcake from Baked and Wired. It was seriously amazing. It changed my mind about red velvet – it was fluffy, moist, with a hint of chocolate, and was all kinds of delicious. I had been converted.

The next step, of course, was to make a great one at home. I was admittedly stalling a bit but thanks to some of you who emailed me asking why in the world there wasn’t a recipe for red velvet cupcakes on my site (which is an absolutely legit question), I got my butt in gear. I did some reading, I looked at a lot of recipes, and in the end I decided to try this one. And I’m so glad I did, because I don’t think a better one could exist. They are everything I was hoping for – moist, fluffy, a tiny bit chocolatey, and a perfect vehicle for a heaping pile of cream cheese frosting!

Good any time of year, especially around Valentine’s Day. Dress ’em up with some pink and red sprinkles and share them with your sweetie!

One year ago: Soft Cheese and Pepperoni Bread

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes


For the Cupcakes:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons red food coloring
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons distilled white vinegar

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 ounces butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2½ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin/cupcake pan with liners.

2. On medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to high and add the egg. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.

3. In a separate small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter and mix on medium speed until completely combined. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add half of the buttermilk. Add half of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour. Beat on high until smooth.

5. Again, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the salt, baking soda and vinegar. Turn to high and beat for another couple of minutes until completely combined and smooth.

6. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a thin knife or skewer inserted into the center of the largest cupcake comes out clean.

7. Cool for 10 minutes and then remove cupcakes from the pan and place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

8. To make the frosting: Using the whisk attachment, whip the butter and cream cheese on high speed for about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl down as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the powdered sugar until all is incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Increase the speed to medium high and whip for a few minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary.

*Note: This recipe can be doubled to make an 8 or 9-inch layer cake.

(Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker, originally from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

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649 Responses to “Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting”

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  1. Katie on December 7, 2012 at 5:01 am

    I love Red Velvet Cupcakes! I’m planning on baking for my team but I wanted the cupcakes to be blue. What changes/additions should I make except for the food coloring?


    • Michelle on December 9th, 2012 at 10:24 am

      Hi Katie, I have not done blue velvet, but I have seen it done on other sites. I don’t think you need to do anything different. Just a note, though, that because of the chocolate you’ll get a very dark blue hue to the cupcakes. If you’re after bright blue, you might try using food coloring in a vanilla cupcake.


      • Katie on December 10th, 2012 at 5:35 am

        Oh okay, thanks! Btw, does the recipe really calls for 3 tablespoons of food coloring or is it supposed to be 3 teaspoons?


        • Michelle on December 10th, 2012 at 12:09 pm

          You’re welcome! Yes, the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of food coloring, not teaspoons.


          • Katie on December 17th, 2012 at 5:46 am

            Another question, I have a bag of powdered buttermilk here so how many cups of powdered buttermilk will I need to make 1/2 cup liquid buttermilk?


            • Michelle on December 17th, 2012 at 10:44 am

              Hi Katie, I have not used powdered buttermilk, so I would just follow the directions on the bag for reconstituting it.

  2. Courtney on December 8, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    I made theses cupcakes last week and they came out great. Everyone liked them so now I’m making it again but as a cake this time for someones birthday. Thanks for the recipe!


  3. Cielo on December 9, 2012 at 8:13 am

    How about using a red vinegar instead of white? Thanks!


    • Michelle on December 9th, 2012 at 10:27 am

      Hi Cielo, Definitely don’t use red (wine) vinegar in these cupcakes. It will impart too much of a flavor, while the white vinegar is very neutral in flavor.


  4. Sandra on December 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    I am very excited to try this recipe but would love to know what brand of cream cheese you use for your frosting? Or if you feel it even matters to use a specific brand for better results?


    • Michelle on December 12th, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Hi Sandra, I always use Philadelphia, but most importantly, make sure you use full-fat cream cheese, and not reduced fat. There isn’t enough fat in the low-fat versions (and too much water) to create a frosting that isn’t runny.


      • Sandra on December 13th, 2012 at 7:11 pm

        Hey thanks for the answer, just one more question in the cucpake recipe you specify unsalted butter but in the frosting recipe it just says butter, is unsalted butter fine for that too or should it be salted butter? Thanks again I can’t wait to try making these hopefully they’re a success like all the other recipes of yours I have tried.


        • Michelle on December 13th, 2012 at 11:09 pm

          Hi Sandra, You can use unsalted and then add a pinch of salt to the frosting, or you can use regular salted butter, whichever you have on hand.


  5. Nat on December 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Hi Michelle – I made these a few weeks ago and they were absolutely delicious. I, like you, took some time to warm up to red velvet but these converted me 100%.
    I’d like to do it as a cake next month for a party, but just want your advice on one thing that could have gone better when I made the cupcakes – the frosting was a little too runny. I stuck to the proportions exactly; do you think this might be because I overwhipped it?


    • Michelle on December 13th, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Hi Nat, Make sure you use full-fat cream cheese, if you use a reduced fat version, the frosting will come out runny. If it’s still too soft, you could add more powdered sugar and/or pop it into the refrigerator to firm up a little bit before spreading.


      • Nat on December 13th, 2012 at 1:03 pm

        Yep, it was full-fat, but I’ll definitely try refrigerating a little next time if I get the same result. Thanks!


  6. Perneet on December 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I made 200 of these and a nine inch topper cakefor my sister’s wedding and I got so many great comments and also an annoyed sister because a guest swiped 15 of them to take home lol. The only thing I changed is that I used red food colouring paste which I mixed with the buttermilk until it was a deep red colour (couldn’t say exactly but roughly a teaspoon). The only reason I used paste is because the only liquid food colouring I could find in the shops usually left a weird taste in the cake, paste works great too though. These changes meant I sifted the cocoa with the flour and the vanilla was added at the end of mixing butter/sugar/eggs. thanks for putting up a great red velvet recipe ; )


  7. the lovely chocolate girl on December 18, 2012 at 10:24 am

    i really like those red velvet cupcakes they are so amazing so fluffy choclatey and creamy too it was so amazing and i really love this website

    with love, the lovely chocolate girl.


  8. cindy on December 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    never bake before and would like to give this a shot. do i use unsalted butter for frosting as well?


    • Michelle on December 18th, 2012 at 6:21 pm

      Hi Cindy, You can use regular (salted) butter in the frosting, or use unsalted butter and add a pinch of salt.


  9. cindy on December 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    not sure what i have done wrong but i used liner cup cake size large from dollar store.
    filled 1/2 on all 12 liners and didnt rise that much. looks dry and flat. please help


  10. Pearl on December 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    What tip did you use to frost?


    • Michelle on December 26th, 2012 at 11:49 am

      Hi Pearl, A Wilton 1M.


  11. Kristen on December 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Made these cupcakes tonight (christmas eve!), they are BEYOND DELICIOUS! so moist, perfect flavor. thank you!!!!


  12. layal on December 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    hi hun .. i tried several rescipes and all were amazing .. but i have powder food coloring .. can i use it ?? and how many TBs ??


    • Michelle on December 26th, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience using powdered food coloring. I have only seen liquid and gel, and I don’t recommend using gel (I’ve done it and it doesn’t work as well as the liquid).


  13. Nicole Bradley on December 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Hi there, Love the red velvet…. Let me first say that I have never in my 34 years tried to bake anything…. yup, I said it.. never :) I am not a cook lol So I thought I would give these a whirl. I think the cupcakes came out great, but I think I went wrong with the frosting??? Mine is way more runny than the pictures show… and I have enough to do 3-4 more trays of the cupcakes lol Where did I go wrong? I followed the directions to a T. The only thing that I can think is that I had to use a regular measuring cup to get the 4oz butter and cream cheese… maybe I put in too much? Should I let it sit? It tastes great, but has more of a pudding texture. Thanks!


    • Michelle on December 31st, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Hi Nicole, First of all, make sure that you used full-fat cream cheese and not a low-fat or non-fat version. That would make a big differently. Secondly, measuring the butter and cream cheese in a measuring cup could have definitely caused the measurements to be off.


  14. Cheryl on January 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Michelle,
    It is my first time baking cupcakes and I was wondering is your batter really thick or is it runny? Because my batter turn out thick without adding all the flour in, I’ve left out 1/4 of the flour. Also, the cup measurement you used for your buttermilk and flour, are they the same? I understand liquid has their own cup measurement but I’m just wondering if it affects the batter consistency. Hope you can reply.


    • Michelle on January 6th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      Hi Cheryl, The batter is moderately thick. It shouldn’t be runny. I can usually scoop it easily with a cookie scoop. I always measure liquids with a liquid measuring cup, and solids either with a scale (my preferred method) or dry measuring cups. They are different, and it will make a difference.


  15. kaka on January 7, 2013 at 6:33 am

    seems im only man here:D anyway im making it but for next time
    On medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to high and add the egg. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.

    what u mean by crape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.?


  16. kaka on January 7, 2013 at 7:28 am

    U gonna kill me?:O 3 TABLESPOONS RED COLORING? :oooooI THINK ITS GOINGN TO BE all my red colors:D anyway it will kill and its danger i gess anyway also the coca color CANNOT-become red! in anyway (my foather got a color making company:D)


  17. kaka on January 7, 2013 at 9:49 am

    nvm mind abotuw hat i said but my cream chees frosting is like water! too much yellow and its competly like water can u tell me why:?:( i did all half


  18. Hailee on January 10, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    I made these the other day and they were SO delicious!!! I made half of the batch with bourbon for a boozy cupcake and it was divine! This is probably the best recipe I’ve ever made myself and the best I’ve ever tasted, EVER!!! So glad I stumbled across your page!


    • shanice on May 5th, 2014 at 5:25 am

      Which bourbon did use use? and did you use it in the cupcake as well as the frosting?


  19. Angelica on January 11, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Hello michelle do i have to use the distilled vinegar for the recipe? and can i use normal milk instead of buttermilk?


    • Michelle on January 11th, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      Hi Angelica, Yes, distilled white vinegar is essential, as it reacts with the buttermilk in the recipe. To that end, you do need to use buttermilk vs. regular milk. If you don’t have access to buttermilk, you can always make your own – see my substitutions page for instructions:


  20. Jenna on January 12, 2013 at 10:57 am

    These are the only red velvet cupcakes I will ever make! Your recipe is the best!


  21. Margaret on January 16, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Looking @ your Red Velvet Cupcake recipe. Everything is explained in ounces/teaspoon etc. But you have put 4 cups of butter. What ounce/gram weight is this please. Thank You. MGT


  22. Margaret on January 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Hi again. Sorry I meant 4 tablespoon of butter. not cups. what is the weight? of this. Thank You MGT


  23. Ngarita on January 19, 2013 at 5:57 am

    Hi there! just wanted to say that after many attempts to get a good red velvet cake recipe for my wedding cake, I am so glad I came across yours! :) definitely the best i have tried! Many thanks all the way from New Zealand :)


  24. Christina on January 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I made these for a New Years party. The cupcakes were moist and the icing was delicious. I had to hide them from the kids, since they were planning the eat the whole tray.


  25. Vans on January 24, 2013 at 2:41 am

    Hi Michelle! I’ve made these cupcakes a hundred times and they are the best!!! One question tho, can i use this recipe for making a red velvet brownie? I plan to swirl the cream cheese in, but I’m not sure if the texture would be brownie-like. Do i need to add/modify ingredient to make this into a brownie? :)


    • Michelle on January 24th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      Hi Vans, Brownies are very, very different from cakes and cupcakes, so this would not make for a good brownie recipe (you’d just end up with cake bars). I don’t have a red velvet brownie recipe (although I do have a Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownie), so I would probably do some searching for an actual brownie recipe. I think you’ll be happier with the results.


  26. Christiana on January 24, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Is this recipe enough for a two layer 8 inch cake?


    • Michelle on January 24th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      Hi Christiana, No, as stated in the note at the end of the recipe, you’ll need to double this for a two layer 8 inch cake.


      • Christiana on January 24th, 2013 at 4:03 pm

        Oh! Sorry I missed that…Thanks so much!


  27. lyn on January 25, 2013 at 4:27 am

    this recipe is perfect, so moist & delicious with that hint of cocoa. thank you so much for sharing!


  28. DeluxuryQueen on January 25, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I have to admit that this is the best recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes. I have tried alot, but this works for me. But however having said that, i get the colour doses wrong some times. Am not sure maybe its the quality of Red food colouring. Some use pastes, some use liquid. I currently use Dr Oetker Natural Red Food Coloring, which comes out really thick. Also I have an issue with buttermilk…. getting it in the stores can be a nightmare, is there a substitute for making this? Am really loving the vibrant pictures on your page…


    • Michelle on January 25th, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      I use liquid food coloring (McCormick brand) for my red velvet. I have tried the gel pastes in a pinch, but have not been happy with the color or consistency. As for the buttermilk, you can definitely make your own. I have the directions on my substitutions page:


  29. Jacqui on January 26, 2013 at 3:14 am

    Very tasty cupcakes! Just made a batch of these for a friends 40th she will not be disappointed :-)


  30. Cammie on February 2, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    They were moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside! I reduced the sugar to 1 1/2 cups for the frosting and it was sweet enough! I also replaced the food coloring with water because I wanted my cupcakes to be all natural


  31. Nicolette on February 3, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    What if I only have powder food coloring on hand would that work?


    • Michelle on February 4th, 2013 at 12:25 am

      Hi Nicolette, You can try it, but I’m not sure how it would work, or what the appropriate amount would be. As I’ve mentioned in some other comments, I have tried it with gel color and it didn’t turn out as well as the liquid. Let me know how it goes!


  32. Jen on February 7, 2013 at 12:44 am

    Has anyone tried this with non-fat milk?
    Should I increase the butter if I use non-fat?


    • Michelle on February 10th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      I do not recommend using non-fat milk in this recipe; the buttermilk is essential for the texture.


  33. Catherine DeYoung on February 7, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    I’ve never seen a RV recipe without vegetable oil! how do you get the classic RV texture? Your pics look gorgeous and I’d love to try it, but the no oil is kind of freaking me out! Is it maybe a typo that it’s missing out of the ingredients?


    • Michelle on February 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      Nope, the ingredients are not missing oil.


  34. Joanne on February 8, 2013 at 6:27 am

    I decided to give this recipe a try after browsing through numerous red velvet cupcake recipes online and this is AMAZING. So moist and fluffy and the frosting is so silky and smooth. Thanks so much for the recipe!


  35. Karli on February 9, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Look NO FURTHER! This is THE red velvet recipe you’re searching for! I made these for a baby shower today and everyone devoured them (myself included!!!) Moist and super yummy. You got just right, Michelle! Thanks :)


  36. kelly on February 9, 2013 at 3:35 am

    can i just double the ammounts of all the ingredients if i want to make 24 cupcakes?


  37. knicnax on February 10, 2013 at 10:38 am


    I’m planning on making this for valentines day. I haven’t tasted red velvet cake, (because I heard too much horrible experiences like yours). I want to try this out but I can only make them on Tuesday morning, and they’ll be eaten Thursday night (Valentines this year falls on a Thursday). I have a pretty jammed week, and I was wondering how well these will keep (btw, I’ll frost them Thursday evening too).


    • Michelle on February 10th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      Store them in an airtight tupperware container and they’ll be just fine. They stay nice and moist for quite a few days.


  38. bell on February 12, 2013 at 3:37 am

    hi michelle,
    just wondering the cream cheese frosting that i made had a tinge of vinegar and sourish aftertaste, i followed the recipe, but i cant seem to achieve it. The initial taste of the frosting was really good, however there always seems to be this sourish taste after a while. is there anything i can do to remove it?
    THANKS :)


    • bell on February 12th, 2013 at 3:44 am

      oh and also, how do we make the frosting stay on the cake and not melt? :) thank you so much and the cakes turned out really great!!!:)


      • Michelle on February 12th, 2013 at 8:29 pm

        The frosting definitely shouldn’t “melt”. If it’s soft, be sure to use full-fat cream cheese (do not substitute low fat versions – they have too much water content), and add more powdered sugar if necessary.


    • Michelle on February 12th, 2013 at 8:28 pm

      I am not sure where you would be getting a sour taste from. Cream cheese does have a little bit of tang to it, but shouldn’t taste sour.


  39. Anaisa on February 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Michelle!! I’m trying my first RV at home for Valentine’s day and your recipe is the one that seems better!!. I’m just scared about the frosting, i made it once and it wouldn’t stay as pretty as yours and didn’t get much shape, it was a lot more loose. Do u have any recommendations or tips to give it a better consistency? thanks!!!


    • Michelle on February 12th, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      Hi Anaisa, Be sure to use full-fat cream cheese, and not a low-fat alternative – there is too much water content in those. I’ve never had an issue with this frosting not setting appropriately, but if you find it’s still too soft, add a little more powdered sugar.


  40. Liana on February 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I just made these cupcakes for my boyfriend for valentines! They were amazing! Everything turned out perfect and the texture was so velvety! X


  41. Rebecca on February 14, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I don’t know much about red velvet- just curious, what does the vinegar do?


    • Michelle on February 14th, 2013 at 11:10 am

      Hi Rebecca, The combination of the vinegar with the baking soda creates a chemical reaction that makes the cakes light and fluffy.


      • Rebecca Vedrin on February 14th, 2013 at 5:43 pm

        YUM! I’m making these for my boyfriend for valentine’s day as i type this! Can’t wait to sample them! thanks for a great recipe


  42. CKNOW on February 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    These are hands-down the best cupcakes – not just red velvet – I have ever had.


  43. Desiree on February 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    These cupcakes are disgusting. I cant believe i just spent all that time making it.


  44. Kirsty on February 15, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I’ve tried two recipes now and both have come out brown not red? This was the better out of the two regards to taste and texture but still brown, what am I doing wrong? :(


    • Michelle on February 16th, 2013 at 10:55 am

      Hi Kirsty, If you’re using all of the red food coloring called for in the recipe, I’m not sure why your cake would be brown. Double-check to make sure your food coloring isn’t old.


  45. Megan on February 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    After making my first red velvet batch from Paula deens recipe, they were a huge failure, they tasted like flour and were pink :(. This recipe is much more smooth and creamy and looks great so far…. They’re just going in the oven. Fingers crossed, this could be a keeper.


  46. Jeannette Dailey on February 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Red Velvet is my favorite cake. I have tried so many recipes and they have all come out way to oily. The oil just seeps out from the liners. I just took yours out of the oven and I can say that I love them already. They look so moist and not oily at all. Thank you so much. I love all of your other cupcakes recipes as well.


  47. Cindy Rickes on February 17, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    I made red velvet cupcakes for my first time using your recipe. They were beautiful and tasted divine. However, I used dark dutched cocoa and I found that the color was more brown-red than a deep red like yours. Should I cut back on the cocoa or just plan on using regular cocoa next time? I also only had icing color “a glacage” but I think I substituted plenty of red coloring.


    • Michelle on February 19th, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      Hi Cindy, I wouldn’t cut back on the cocoa (that’s what gives red velvet its distinctive taste), but if you have regular unsweetened cocoa I would give that a try and see if the color doesn’t even out for you. It could have also been the type of food coloring you used. I’ve definitely found that liquid food coloring works much, much better than any other type (paste, gel) that I’ve tried.


  48. Zaire on February 18, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    just made these and honestly couldnt be more happy with the results. I did modify it a bit by cutting the amount of food-coloring in half,replacing the white vinegar with lemon, and I didnt have any buttermillk so I combined 1/2 cup milk with a 1/2 tablespoon lemon, and let it sit for 5 min. Worked perfectly. This is now my go-to recipe for red-velvet cupcakes!


  49. angelica on February 19, 2013 at 9:19 am

    i made this recently for my boyfriends sisters birthday, everybody loved them, its a perfect recipe! amazing colour and flavours. definately one of my favourites now


  50. Margaret Wasielczyk on February 23, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I made these for my coworkers for Valentines day and they were perfectly moist and the flavor was marvelous! Thanks for publishing this recipe, I think I’ll make green ones for St Patrick’s day!!


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