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Welcome to our wonderful community and you are certainly in the right place for what you are asking.

And good for you.  You have done research before posting and put some interesting questions forth.

i am not a baker so can be of absolutely no help.  I might add that I LOVE shortbread and have only made my mother's family recipe which would not add anything to your quest.  I shall follow along with interest.  Cheers

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47 minutes ago, Okanagancook said:

 I might add that I LOVE shortbread and have only made my mother's family recipe which would not add anything to your quest.

I beg to differ... Aren't the family recipes passed down through generations the best ones?! Especially with the classic ones like shortbread? If you love shortbread and you love your mother's, I would love to see it!

 

Thank you for your interest and the kind welcome! :smile:

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May I also say welcome? I, too am delighted that you have done your research before posing your question. It helps everyone not only truly understand your question and why you are asking it, but also educates us! Too many people join up asking simple questions that they could have found the answer to in minutes if they had bothered to look. Then we never hear from them again.

 

There is one thing though I would like to add.
 

6 hours ago, Ess said:

I personally think shortbread tastes much better with salt, but I've noticed that 'shortbread' shouldn't really have salt in it.

 

I think most people here avoid saying what people "should" or shouldn't" do. Unless, of course, you were to suggest something ridiculous such as adding canned sardines to your shortbread or eating cheddar cheese sandwiches made with banana bread! 

 

Or saying what is 'best' - always a subjective judgement. If you prefer your shortbread with salt, then that is best. For you. (and for me - I agree!)

I am officially eGullet's worst baker, so I can't really help either, but look forward to your findings. 

I too would like to see  @Okanagancook's family recipe.

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6 hours ago, Ess said:

I wasn't going to post as it seemed out of my league

 

I felt the same and hovered around for a while before taking the plunge.

We have all sorts here. Several pros but probably more enthusiastic amateurs. People with some expertise or knowledge in one area but clueless in others. 

There is no league. Everyone has something to contribute. You'll fit right in.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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Thank you all for the encouragement! :)

 

2 hours ago, liuzhou said:

 

Or saying what is 'best' - always a subjective judgement. If you prefer your shortbread with salt, then that is best. For you. 

 

It's true,  that's why this is so hard and I feel like it's kind of a long shot, but, to rephrase, I guess I'm really on the quest to find the 'most popular' recipe here (not what I like best - hopefully I'm part of the general consensus though, because the more people there are that like the final recipe, the more it shows it really is the best!).  And 'most popular' amongst the food lovers here is probably going to be closer to 'best' than the 'most popular'  somewhere else - I figured this is where I'll get as close to 'best' as I can! Hoping people will be willing to share their great recipes. 

 

If someone has one they think is the best they've ever had (compared to others they've eaten) please post... I'd like to use it to test the tang mian method I mentioned. 

 

Which also leads me to remember that I also wanted to mention that, besides the water evaporating if I use the method, I guess it would be considered using melted butter,  which I know is another factor... I read that melted butter results in a chewier cookie and softened butter results in a more cake-like cookie, but, apparently these recipes are made specifically  for the type of butter called for. So you can't just sub in melted for softened butter in a softened butter recipe (or vice versa)  if you want a chewier cookie - you need a whole new recipe. I can't find the science behind that - does anyone know how exactly you'd have to change the recipe based on the butter? 

 

Having said that, should shortbread be chewy or cake-like? Should this texture be achieved through type of butter or through other means? 

 

Sorry, one more! After mentioning the gritty vs crumbly part in my first post,  I looked for "how to make crumbly cookies" but kept getting results for why your cookie came out that way and how to avoid it! So I guess crumbly is supposed to be unwanted? Or is it different for shortbread... 

 

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The thick, pressed-into-a-pan style of shortbread is usually somewhat crumbly, though recipes vary in their degree of crumbliness. Individual, thinner cookies need to be sturdier so they'll hold their shape and not break into fragments when handled, so the proportions are different. 

 

FWIW, I've always used salted butter in mine. Primarily that's because a) I usually only keep salted on hand, which in turn is because b) salted is cheaper by about $1/lb and I'm usually unwilling to spend the difference (we can blame that on my Scots heritage, perhaps). The ratio I use in mine is 1 part butter:2 parts sugar:4 parts flour (by volume, because that's how my grandmother did it), which makes a pretty good cookie. Spoon the flour into your cup and swipe to level it, otherwise you'll get too much flour and the dough will be stiff and dry. 

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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I understand that brands of butter vary in their salt content, and that in large-scale recipes it can be the difference between things tasting "right" and tasting salty. 

 

For a home-sized recipe using a cup or less, I think it amounts to (as they say in the Canadian military) "picking fly-shit out of the pepper."

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"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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I guess it all depends on how you like your shortbread. (Or anything else.) Even for home-sized recipes, some people prefer to bake and cook things to their own taste and can tell the difference between different levels of salt in different brands of butter. Others prefer to laugh at recipes that do things differently than they do. To each his own.

 

In any case, I've used this recipe for shortbread, which I like very much: http://joepastry.com/?s=shortbread He uses unsalted butter and adds his own salt. I always add rice flour to my shortbread, I like the texture it creates.

 

I think "true" Scottish shortbread (if there is such a thing) does not include salt. It is flour, butter, sugar and that's it. I always add salt because I don't like it without. While I like the recipe linked above, I haven't yet found "my" shortbread recipe. I make different recipes all the time. I like them all, but so far haven't found one that will make me stop searching. 

 

 

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@cakewalk

Thanks for the link. 

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Sorry for the delay.  I couldn't find my Mom's recipe box but my DH found it just now tucked at the back of a low down shelf in the dining room!   Most of her recipes are for baked goodies which go well with Tea (we're British).

Here is the recipe as written:

 

"1 cup butter (probably salted because I don't remember knowing about unsalted butter)

1/2 cup Powdered Sugar (that would be Icing Sugar)

1 egg Yolk

1/8 tsp Grated Nutmeg

Flour

 

Soften butter slightly, but do not allow it to become oily.  Stir in sugar, nutmeg and the egg yolk using a wooden spoon.  

Add flour a very little at a time, until mixture is too stiff to work with the spoon.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead lightly, drawing in flour all the time until the lump just BEGINS TO CRACK. 

Roll dough out about 1/4 inch thick and cut into squares or rounds.

Place on an un-greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until delicately browned."

 

Haven't had these in years but I remember they weren't too sweet and were a bit crumbly.

 

Thomas Keller has a recipe for shortbreads in Ad Hoc At Home on page 327.  His recipe calls for 7 oz unsalted butter; 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling; 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract and 2 cups of all purpose flour.   He calls them 'very satisfying and not too sweet'.  I have not made them but most of his recipes are pretty spectacular IMHO.

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3 hours ago, cakewalk said:

 I haven't yet found "my" shortbread recipe. I make different recipes all the time. I like them all, but so far haven't found one that will make me stop searching.

Thank you for the recipe! Hoping to find  "the one" to end all searches through this thread! 

 

4 hours ago, cakewalk said:

I make different recipes all the time.

Do you happen to know which recipes you've tried? If there were any that you really did not like (especially if there were specific aspects that lead to specific undesirable results), I think it would help narrow down the search so we can eliminate some recipes from the start.

 

Also, I noticed the recipe you linked has very specific instructions. It uses cold butter and the mixing method is almost akin to the method for biscuits and pie dough. Is this method used purposely to get that flakiness that we consider makes successful biscuits and pie crusts? If so, should we make every effort to keep the butter and dough cold and work it as little as possible like I've been told for biscuits and pie crusts?

If the cold butter thing is important in this recipe, it'd be really neat to compare a recipe that uses melted butter or the tang mian method (I think I should experiment with this method on a recipe that uses melted butter) I mentioned.

 

4 hours ago, cakewalk said:

I always add rice flour to my shortbread, I like the texture it creates.

It's interesting to note that your recipe says 1.25 ounces corn starch or rice flour to adjust to people's preferences for gritty vs creamy. I wonder if it'd still be excellent without either added.

 

11 hours ago, chromedome said:

The ratio I use in mine is 1 part butter:2 parts sugar:4 parts flour (by volume, because that's how my grandmother did it), which makes a pretty good cookie. Spoon the flour into your cup and swipe to level it, otherwise you'll get too much flour and the dough will be stiff and dry. 

Do you have a specific method?

Also, I Googled cups to ounces for comparison's sake:

8oz butter

14.2oz sugar

17oz flour

 

And I think there must be something wrong with what I did, because cakewalk's recipe reads:

8.75 ounces (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1.25 ounces (1/4 cup) of either corn starch or rice flour
5 ounces (about 2/3 cup) extra fine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes

 

The ratios seem too drastically different to be right? Or maybe that is what it takes and just shows how different two shortbread recipes can be?

 

On a side note, why is salted butter cheaper anyways? Is it because it has a longer shelf life or something? I've always wondered this.

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Salted and unsalted butter seem to be the same price in the US, but they're predictably $1 apart anywhere I've lived in Canada. It seems to be a circular thing: We buy less because it costs more, and it costs more because it's not as popular. I don't think shelf life is necessarily the issue because a lot of stores keep it in the frozen section. 

 

As for method, I just cream the sugar and butter and then add the flour. It's kind of a "don't overthink it" recipe. 

 

Years ago I was looking for a gluten-free "shortbread," so I tried an Iranian cookie made with rice flour and an Indian cookie made with pan-toasted chickpea flour. I found the Iranian one gritty and the Indian one too earthy, but then had the inspiration of doing half-and-half with the rice flour and chickpea flour. That worked pretty well (I used brown butter, for extra flavor) but it was a long time ago and I have no memory of the exact recipes I used. 

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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2 hours ago, Okanagancook said:

1 cup butter (probably salted because I don't remember knowing about unsalted butter)

1/2 cup Powdered Sugar (that would be Icing Sugar)

1 egg Yolk

1/8 tsp Grated Nutmeg

Flour

Thank you for the recipe! The egg is new.

 

2 hours ago, Okanagancook said:

Thomas Keller has a recipe for shortbreads in Ad Hoc At Home on page 327.  His recipe calls for 7 oz unsalted butter; 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling; 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract and 2 cups of all purpose flour.   He calls them 'very satisfying and not too sweet'.  I have not made them but most of his recipes are pretty spectacular IMHO.

7oz butter

3.6oz sugar

8.5 oz flour

 

That does seem like significantly less sugar than the other recipes. I'm guessing this would be my personal preference, but I don't know how popular it'd be with Westerners' sweet tooths teeth; coming from an Asian background I tend to prefer less sweet.

 

I forgot to mention the vanilla! It seems to me that more recipes contain vanilla than not. The rice flour shortbread cookie I mentioned in my first post actually had vanilla in it and that was the only reason I ate the rest (no one else wanted them afterwards...) because I liked the flavour (the vanilla was kind of overpowering). But it feels like I liked it as a "vanilla cookie" rather than a "shortbread cookie" if that makes sense... I feel like butter should be the main flavour. But maybe in moderation it can do a lot of good. What does everyone else think.. Yes vanilla for 'real' or 'best' shortbread?

 

Now I don't know which recipe to try! :S It would be hard to try them all as chromedome kind-of mentioned, butter is expensive. I will try a couple and hopefully others will as well so we can narrow down a bit. There has to be at least one that stands out a bit, to everyone...

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7 minutes ago, chromedome said:

Years ago I was looking for a gluten-free "shortbread," so I tried an Iranian cookie made with rice flour and an Indian cookie made with pan-toasted chickpea flour. I found the Iranian one gritty and the Indian one too earthy, but then had the inspiration of doing half-and-half with the rice flour and chickpea flour. That worked pretty well (I used brown butter, for extra flavor) but it was a long time ago and I have no memory of the exact recipes I used. 

I actually have some chickpea flour..! Hmm, another thing to consider!

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You have to toast the chickpea flour in a dry skillet until it smells, well...toasty...otherwise you get a distinctly "bean-y" flavor in the finished cookie. The flour will get a little bit browner, but your nose will tell you when it's done. It goes from smelling rather leguminous to aromatic and fragrant, more or less all at once. Stir it constantly though, or it'll scorch. 

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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I think looking for a "best" recipe of any sort is always going to be problematic.  You have to try some and then decide what you like best. Maybe you could make a few half-recipes. Also, shortbread is made in many different flavors these days. I'd say you had vanilla shortbread, not a vanilla cookie. I've made ginger shortbread, lavender shortbread (tasted like soap), and others over the years. I'd say it's still shortbread if it uses more butter than a "regular" cookie and also no leavening. Also a larger proportion of flour than most other cookies would take. (Obviously I'm not thinking so scientifically.) BTW, I think the joepastry.com site also has something about the tang mian method, although not shortbread.

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I thought so too, but what really drew me to this forum were the threads like :

 

etc.

 

I realize these are over ten years old, so I did have my doubts about whether something like this would work now. But I really loved going through all these threads, they were pretty amazing to me.

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I'd like to find a best plain shortbread recipe first. I feel like once you start adding other flavours, that's what's making seem good. I want the shortbread part to taste good and able to hold its own. I mean, once you start adding chocolate, of course it's going to taste good!

 

Before getting into all this shortbread stuff, I had an earl gray shortbread recipe I really liked but for some reason that one, and other earl gray shortbread recipes I've seen, form it into a log, chill it, and cut it. Confused as to why they use a different method just due to different flavour. Would doing it that way that have significant effect to texture? Compared to traditional methods. I've seen other cookie recipes call for that too.

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36 minutes ago, cakewalk said:

Also a larger proportion of flour than most other cookies would take.

This and @chromedome's talk of toasting flour is making my mind wander to toasted flour shortbread (at the moment, I don't think it would help in this thread though..still looking for just plain shortbread first)? Since flour is such a large proportion, it would kind of make sense to make that part taste really good as it makes up the biggest part of the cookie...

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1 hour ago, Ess said:

Before getting into all this shortbread stuff, I had an earl gray shortbread recipe I really liked but for some reason that one, and other earl gray shortbread recipes I've seen, form it into a log, chill it, and cut it. Confused as to why they use a different method just due to different flavour. Would doing it that way that have significant effect to texture? Compared to traditional methods. I've seen other cookie recipes call for that too.

Chilling and slicing is just a convenient way to handle a soft, high-fat dough. As with spritz cookies, the end result is very delicate.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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My paternal grandmother was of Scottish decent and as youngsters, she often used to bake shortbread when we visited her on Sundays. It was always delicious and the best shortbread my brother and I had tasted. This actually means very little as we, as kids, had not actually sampled any other shortbread besides that baked by my grandmother! But, as a kid, I remember it to really be delicious. This was in the late fifties and early sixties.

 

Now, many years later and trying a number of different recipes over the years, I have my own recipe which works very well for me and I classify as "okay +" - in other words, not what I remember as being the best, but still reasonably good for what I use it for - Millionaires Shortbread.

 

Your post has had me thinking and I now have gone back to have a look at some of my shortbread recipes from my studies and others that I have gathered over the years. And then I came across a handwritten recipe in my fathers writing that I really cannot remember receiving - he passed away in the 70's. The recipe says "Mothers Scottish shortbread recipe", which I take as being my grandmothers shortbread she used to bake for us. If it is or not, I have no idea, but it is old as it is still in ounces and we change to the metric system in the mid 60's.

 

I have not tried it, as far as I know, but here is the recipe.

 

Shortbread

8oz cake flour
4oz cornflour
6oz butter (all butter here was salted in the 50's and 60's)
4oz caster sugar

 

  • Sift the dry ingredients onto a pastry board or stone.
  • Place the butter into the centre and gradually mix the dry ingredients into this by hand.
  • Knead until stif but not oily.
  • Press to a thickness of approximately ½ inch into a lightly greased cake tin then un-mould onto an ungreased baking sheet. Carefully crimp the edge between the thumb and forefinger, mark and prick evenly with a fork.
  • Bake in a moderate oven (350°F) for about 1 hour.

Note: a wooden rectangle mould specially designed for shortbread may be used to produce shortbread fingers. The mould must be floured and the pressed dough carefully removed by tapping the mould gently. Mark, prick and bake as normal. Dust the shortbread with more caster sugar soon after removing from the oven.

 

I do have others from my training as a PC, but we never really made shortbread or my memory is really failing me. I also have a recipe from a British course I did, which is also slightly different, but one I also cannot remember making. These are also from the 60's.

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For any non-Anglophiles reading this, "corn flour" in the UK context is what we call cornstarch in North America. 

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12 hours ago, Ess said:

I thought so too, but what really drew me to this forum were the threads like :

 

etc.

 

I realize these are over ten years old, so I did have my doubts about whether something like this would work now. But I really loved going through all these threads, they were pretty amazing to me.

I think perhaps you're being a bit too literal. The "best of" threads are wonderful for sure, but I find that it's the different opinions that make them so great, not a consensus of any sort. Everyone shares his own "best of," and that's why they're such great learning threads. Good luck in your search.

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4 hours ago, cakewalk said:

I think perhaps you're being a bit too literal. The "best of" threads are wonderful for sure, but I find that it's the different opinions that make them so great, not a consensus of any sort. Everyone shares his own "best of," and that's why they're such great learning threads. Good luck in your search.

It is the opinions that made them so great, and they are great learning threads. And they did come up with a general consensus (or at least, two or three, at times) which I hope to achieve here as well. Though everyone has different tastes, there are reasons why certain brands and products are more popular. More people think they are the best. Really, I would like to find a recipe or two that are most popular amongst the eGullet community.

 

I am going away for the weekend and when I come back, I will try the "grandmother" recipes given here and will post results...

I wanted to try @Okanagancook's recipe as I loved this:

21 hours ago, Okanagancook said:

 I couldn't find my Mom's recipe box but my DH found it just now tucked at the back of a low down shelf in the dining room!

This recipe has to be pretty legitimate because only the best recipes are found in places like that...! I liked the method too.

 

And I was going to compare it to @chromedome's recipe, using volume measurements like his grandmother. Also, do you have a recommended temperature to bake?

 

That was the plan until @JohnT post. It was silly how excited I was by your post!xD I will definitely be trying your recipe as well! Thank you so much for posting!

 

11 hours ago, JohnT said:

Your post has had me thinking and I now have gone back to have a look at some of my shortbread recipes from my studies and others that I have gathered over the years.

I'd be really interested to see your notes!

 

11 hours ago, JohnT said:

Now, many years later and trying a number of different recipes over the years, I have my own recipe which works very well for me and I classify as "okay +" - in other words, not what I remember as being the best, but still reasonably good for what I use it for - Millionaires Shortbread

Do you mind sharing this one as well? And do you think you'd be able to try your grandmother's recipe and let us know what you personally think of it? If you think it's better than your current one?

 

Since JohnT is the first to present a recipe that seems to be "the best" (though much more humbly), I really hope others will try JohnT's recipe as well to see if they think it's better than theirs or if it even manages to be "the one" that stops the search. Perhaps @cakewalk would sub in rice flour for the cornstarch.

I wondered if anyone would actually want to bake different batches of cookies but after reading through various threads here, that's what people here seem to do! This is what impressed me and lead me to start this topic. But I do understand if this doesn't actually happen. I will try the recipes, but to be honest, it's not really my opinion that I care about, it's everyone else's - I'd like to see the majority opinion. That is just my hope, however.

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      ON THE CHRISTMAS TABLE - CHRISTMAS EVE CRANBERRY KISSEL
       
      One of my friends from Ukraine told me about her traditional Christmas dishes. Except for stuffed cabbage with potatoes (which I have made already) I was surprised about cranberry kissel. I searched the Internet and I saw that in many Polish homes Christmas Eve supper ends with cranberry kissel. In my home we always drink compote with dried fruit, but maybe this year we will try a new dish on our Christmas menu.

      I wonder why cranberries are on the Christmas table. I didn't find any particular information about it (except the fact it is tradition). I think that a few years ago cranberries were treated as a natural cure which aids digestion, and this could be quite useful after a hefty Christmas meal!

      At my Ukrainian friends' home Christmas kissel is runny like a drink, but you can prepare it like a dessert with a more dense texture. I made the drink version, but you should choose which is better for you.

      Ingredients:
      500g of cranberries
      a piece of cinnamon and a couple of cloves
      6-8 tablespoons of sugar
      2-3 tablespoons of potato flour

      Wash the cranberries and put them with the cinnamon and cloves in a pan. Pour in 500ml of water and boil until the fruit is soft. Remove the cinnamon and cloves and blend the rest. Add the sugar and mix it until it has dissolved. Sieve the cranberry mousse to make a smooth texture. Mix the potato flour with a bit of cold water. Boil the cranberry mousse and add the mixed potato flour, stirring constantly so it is not lumpy. Boil for a while. Pour the kissel into some glasses.

      Enjoy your meal!

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