How to reduce sugar in cake: sweet success

“Can I cut back the sugar in this cake recipe? Will the cake still be good?”

We’ve heard this question on our Baker’s Hotline so frequently that we decided we’d best come up with a well-researched answer. So, multiple tests and many cakes later, here’s the verdict:

Is it possible to reduce sugar in cake? Absolutely — learn how to get the very best results. Click To Tweet

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Unlike many other baked goods, the successful cake relies in equal parts on ingredients and technique. While just about any muffin batter can be stirred together, plopped into a pan, and baked to perfection, cakes are more finicky.

Four cake types: technique is the difference

In fact, professional bakers divide cakes into four distinct types, based on preparation technique: blended, creamed, sponge, and foam.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Blended cake

Blended cake is the most basic: you simply put all of the ingredients into a bowl and stir them together. Old-Fashioned Apple Cake is one example.

Sugar doesn’t build volume in these cakes, but simply provides sweetness and moisture. Blended cakes are typically medium- to coarse-textured, and are often baked in a single layer: think sheet cake.

Once you get past this basic cake, though, the plot thickens (as does the batter).

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Creamed cake

This type of cake relies on “creaming” (beating together) butter and sugar until they’re lightened in color and fluffy. This builds volume and texture; these cakes may be high-rising, like our Classic Vanilla Bundt Cake — or denser, like the Brown Sugar Sour Cream Pound Cake pictured above. But they’re uniformly fine-textured.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Sponge cake

Another path to the same destination is sponge cake — e.g., Hot Milk Cake — which starts with a well-beaten mixture of eggs and sugar, instead of butter and sugar. Sponge cake tends to be moister than creamed cake, but is otherwise quite similar.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Foam cake

And then there are foam-style cakes — Angel Food Cake, for instance. Egg whites and sugar, beaten to a thick meringue, create cakes whose texture is super-light, but also somewhat dry and “springy:” these cakes won’t fall apart at the mere sight of your fork, and thus are great for filling and rolling (think Bûche de Noël).

Reduce sugar in cake: the test

I put my head together with Melanie Wanders, a talented baker who works in our King Arthur Flour Bakery and also teaches at our baking school. After we agreed on a plan, Mel tested three different recipes for each of these four cake genres (blended, creamed, sponge, foam). She used different amounts of sugar in each, as follows:

  • the original recipe;
  • the original with a 10% sugar reduction
  • the original with a 25% sugar reduction
  • the original with a 50% sugar reduction

Reduce sugar in cake: the takeaways

Mel’s results are surprising to both of us. After years of believing that using the full amount of sugar in a cake recipe is critical to the cake’s texture, we can now say — it ain’t necessarily so.

Says Mel, “This was a really surprising project for me. I had anticipated to see a lot of height and color difference across mixing methods, but that wasn’t the case.”

Let’s take our data and draw some conclusions that you can put to work with your own favorite cake recipes.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Reduce sugar in any cake by 10% right now

After studying Mel’s test results, comprised of a dozen different recipes representing four types of cake, we believe you can reduce the sugar in any cake recipe by 10% without compromising its flavor or texture.

In fact, Mel reports the foam-type cakes are better with a 10% reduction: “I felt that the structure [with a 10% sugar reduction] was best in all three recipes I tested — there was no sinking.”

Now, is this successful 10% sugar reduction applicable to every cake recipe in the universe? I can’t guarantee that. But I feel confident that you can take your favorite cake recipe, cut the sugar by 10%, and be very happy with the result.

The easiest way to make this 10% reduction? Remove 5 teaspoons from each cup of sugar called for in the recipe.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Reduce sugar in blended cakes by up to 50%

“I found no difference in any of the four sugar levels in blended cakes [original, and 10%, 25%, and 50% reductions] other than how sweet you like things,” said Mel. “And for cakes with fruit in them already, I think the baker can decide to use any of the reduction amounts.”

The only reservation we have with this blanket endorsement of wholesale sugar reduction is for chocolate cake (e.g., Cake Pan Cake). Cocoa’s bitterness demands a certain level of sweetness to keep it palatable. So if you’re reducing sugar in chocolate cake, start with 10%, and take it down from there.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Reduce sugar in creamed cakes by up to 25%

Mel prefers a 10% sugar reduction to the original in creamed cakes. However, “To move to a 25% reduction or more would be too much for most bakers, in my opinion,” she said, adding that at 25% she had trouble with creaming, and with the batter separating.

Still, if you want to reduce the sugar in your favorite creamed cake recipe by 25%, I urge you to do your own test. I tried a 25% reduction in Brown Sugar Pound Cake (above), and certainly found the cake less sweet. But lowering the original level of sweetness allowed the butter flavor to shine through. And the cake’s texture, though a tad drier, was perfectly acceptable.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Don’t read the shape of these slices as indicative of how high the cakes rose: they’re sliced off the bottom.

Reduce sugar in sponge cakes by up to 25%

We both find that a 25% sugar reduction in sponge cake recipes is perfectly acceptable. As with the creamed cakes, the reduced sweetness allows other flavors to emerge. And their texture is excellent: moist, fine-grained, and high-rising.

Speaking of texture, though, we find sponge cakes tend to suffer when you cut their sugar by 50%. While they’re still fine-grained, they don’t rise as high, and become unpleasantly rubbery.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

At left, angel food cake with 100% of its sugar; at right, sugar reduced by 50%. See how the reduced-sugar cake shrank in the pan? It’s considerably heavier and shorter than the full-sugar cake.

Reduce sugar in foam cakes by 10%

Baking an angel food cake? Go ahead, reduce the sugar by 10%. Beyond that, though, you risk compromising texture. Says Mel, “Reducing sugar by more than 10% in foam cakes results in texture changes and an egg flavor that’s too pronounced for me.”

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

What about baker’s percentage?

Savvy bakers understand how to manipulate the ingredients in their favorite recipes using baker’s percentage: comparing the weight of each ingredient in a recipe to the weight of the flour.

Example: Your favorite yellow cake recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups (298g) sugar and 2 cups (241g) flour. 298 ÷ 241 = 1.24. The baker’s percentage of sugar in this recipe is 124%: not atypical for a cake.

After figuring the baker’s percentage of sugar for each of the recipes tested, in all their iterations, I’d suggest that a baker’s percentage of sugar between 80% and 125% will yield reliably good results in all types of cake. An exception is foam cake: you should stick with reducing the sugar in these by no more than 10%. For high-rising angel food cakes, that translates to a baker’s percentage somewhere north of 200%. For flat foam cakes that’ll be rolled up like a jelly roll, keep the baker’s percentage around 110%.

How to reduce sugar in cake via @kingarthurflour

Bottom line: Lots of tests; lots of data; lots of cake!

Honestly, don’t be afraid to cut back the sugar in your favorite cake recipes. Start with a simple 10% reduction: 5 teaspoons scooped out of each cup of sugar. If you like the results (and you’re not baking an angel food-type cake), remove more sugar the next time. You’ll soon discover what works best for you — and your family.

Want more tips for reducing the sugar in your baking? Read these posts:

How to reduce sugar in muffins 
How to reduce sugar in cookies and bars
How to reduce sugar in yeast breads
How to reduce sugar in pie

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Melissa

    Since one function of sugar in cakes is to hold onto moisture, how did these cakes with less sugar age? Were they as good on the day after you made them? Two days after?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      As expected, Melissa, the less sugar, the more quickly the cakes dry out. But at 10% reduction, it’s indiscernible. Only at 25% and greater sugar reduction, and only after three days, was I able to taste the two side by side and say, “Yes, this reduced sugar cake is drier than the full-sugar cake.” PJH

  2. J.T.

    Wonderful, amazing post!
    I have to make 3 cakes in the next 4 days, so I’ll be using this information, starting tonight! 10% it is! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Nick

    Great third post in the “reducing sugar” series!
    What about pudding cakes? They create a sauce as they bake, but isn’t that because of sugar? If I reduced the sugar for one, what do you think would happen?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Nick, I assume the more sugar you take out, the less “saucy” the cakes will become, but that’s just an educated guess. If you try it, check back here and let us all know, OK? Thanks — good question. PJH

  4. Holly

    Reducing sugar is a first step for this high altitude baker and what we always suggested students try when I worked at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts. It’s amazing how doing can improve both structure and flavor. Thanks for such a thorough analysis!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Holly, thanks for your feedback here; I’m glad being at altitude is complementary to lower-sugar baking. I love how the flavor of the recipe’s other elements shine through, as you say — PJH

    2. Debra

      Thanks for the high-altitude tip, Holly. I’m at 7,000 feet near Flagstaff, AZ, and am never sure how baked goods and candy will turn out; it’s so unpredictable. I will try this soon!

    3. Holly

      Debra, 7,000 feet! I’m only at Mile High and, yes, you are so right about unpredictability. If you bake a cake or cookie which collapsed and exhibits a shiny, sugary crust, that’s a sure-fire indicator that sugar can be reduced. Good luck with your candy!

  5. Lorraine Fina Stevenski

    I have been trying to reduce sugar in my baking for a long time! Thank you PJ for your great information and research. I have had great success with Truvia baking blend. It is part sugar and part Stevia. It bakes up perfectly in my cakes and muffins.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Lorraine, that’s good to know — we hope to tackle these alternative sweeteners sometime in the future. Glad Truvia is working for you! PJH

  6. Gaynelle Campbell

    Thank you so much for this information! I am an insulin-dependent diabetic (54 years and counting!) and have often wished that KA did more to reduce sweetness in recipes. Now I have some guidance on reducing the sugar in cakes. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  7. Sara

    I loved the cookie experiment with less sugar and was thinking when I read it that I have had better results with reduced sugar in cakes. Thanks for confirming and testing all the different combinations for cakes. Love these articles!

    Reply
  8. Karen

    Although I’m still an insecure baker who worries about changing any detail in a recipe, I’m still enjoying these how to lessen sugar articles. I’m surrounded by diabetics, and this gives me something to work with when baking for them.

    Reply
  9. V Cuppage

    Wow! Thank you so much for this! I’m going to apply it to my quick bread recipes (which are basically cakes)!

    Reply
  10. Courtney montgomery

    Oh wow thank you so very much for tjis reduced sugar post i am a type2 diabectic and i am always looking for ways to reduce sugar and share with family and friends.who may have reservations about eating a lower sugar treat.

    Reply
  11. Gail L

    I’m also curious about stevia replacements as I don’t want a bitter tasting, poor texture or lopsided bake. I often remove some sugar from blended recipes and it’s fine, especially with fruits. Good Article

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Gail, thanks for the info. — I think stevia replacements would tend to work in places where sugar doesn’t provide structure, including sweets like pie and pudding. Where sugar might add to structure or texture, it’s best to proceed with caution, until you ascertain whether the particular recipe you’re trying is a fit. Thanks for connecting here — PJH

  12. Julie

    I’m ahead of my time. I’ve been reducing sugar in all my baked products and have said that This exact science for baking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some things I don’t change are soda and powder. Everything else is up for grabs. There are a lot of things I do, I’ve learned by trial and error. Some things may not be pretty the first time I try it, but everything has been tasty with nothing “given to the wildlife” which sometimes happens with gifts we receive. 😂

    Reply
  13. Julie Conway

    Thank you for this article. My husband is diabetic but likes homemade baked goods. I really dislike the taste of artificial sweeteners. This could be a happy medium.

    Reply
  14. Rosemary Wightman

    Excellent advice on sugar level I love making cakes but have to reduce sugar
    your tip is
    Excelent for me
    Thank.you
    Rosie

    Reply
  15. Faye

    The next step in baking is to get rid of the highly processed white sugar and substitute with other sweeteners that are less processed like honey, blackstrap molasses, date sugar, rapadura, maple syrup, and maple crystals. However then the challenge is to deal with color changes and tastes and moisture content. It’s a real challenge!!

    Reply
  16. K2

    Great analysis and thanks for doing it! I have Celiac and hadn’t really thought about the structural role of sugar in a cake recipe until I tasted a gluten free white birthday cake that was so, so heavy with sugar and the baker told me the recipe required it. I prefer less sweet cakes and my favorite has been your Strawberry Almond Flour cake. I think it would be a foam cake but your recipe already doesn’t call for much sugar.

    If you’re reducing the sugar in the cake, I find dusting the cake with powdered sugar, drizzle with dark chocolate or serve with fresh fruit and whipped cream to be tasty ways to avoid the heavy butter cream frosting.

    I really appreciate the cake analysis!

    Reply
  17. Helen S. Fletcher

    I think this is a really good article. The only thing I wish you would have shown is side views not all top views. The chocolate cake is the only one that looks like something is different as more sugar is removed.

    Also, as a pastry chef and blogger (www.pastrieslikeapro.coom) I can tell you that a teeny bit of egg yolk in egg whites does not inhibit their ability to beat up to full height. Baking is more of a science, just not rocket science!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for the suggestion about including a side view or crumb shot in future investigations like this. We can see how this could be helpful, and we appreciate your feedback, Helen. Kye@KAF

  18. Janice

    Thank you for this helpful and easy to follow post. Information like this is one of the many reasons I turn to King Arthur Flour when I bake.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You can try using an additional egg yolk in place of some of the liquid, which adds tenderness and moisture, or you can experiment by increasing some of the fat by a few tablespoons. You might want to start simply by reducing the sugar by 10%, as we found that the texture held up nicely and didn’t dry out with this reduction. Your baked goods might stay moist even with a small reduction like this. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  19. Francesca

    I have never used the amount of sugar called for in baking recipes. The most I’ve ever used is half, and that’s rare; it’s usually 1/3. I never noticed a difference in the rising because I haven’t compared them to things made with all the sugar. They’re plenty sweet for me, and people often ask me for my recipes.

    Reply
  20. Gayle Hyden

    What about using xylitol? I met an owner of a ‘sugar-free’ bakery awhile back that said the answer to making cakes was to use it – our time was cut short so no more information. Haven’t been able to find any information on this subject. I use xylitol for many recipes but have not tried it in cakes. It is interchangeable with strawberries for strawberry shortcake – I think it is amazing. Thanks–

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t done much testing with xylitol in the test kitchen, Gayle, but we appreciate your inquiry. There are some bakers who swear by using this ingredient and have great success using it as a sugar replacer. Perhaps it’s something we can explore in the future–thanks for suggesting! Kye@KAF

    2. Beth

      Just a warning​- xylitol can be fatal to dogs. Extra effort must be made to avoid them getting anything​with xylitol.

  21. Rachel England

    Thanks for the research! So timely. I have been searching the internet for reduced sugar recipes! I am having an internal struggle with wanting to be healthier and reduce the added sugar in my diet, but my baker heart just can’t let go of baking! Love this article.

    Reply
  22. Rita

    Really informative and useful! Thanks so much for this kind of info.
    I’m fighting weight gain and pre-diabetes and this is going to be really
    helpful.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Coyle

      Rita, So am I. I am taking a class through work for pre-diabetics, sponsored by the CDC and a local hospital. In the class, we are supposed to take our carbohydrates down to a low amount.
      I make a banana bread for the week, and have a small slice every morning with my yogurt and blueberries. I am looking forward to trying the 10 percent reduction in sugar.
      Every little bit helps.

  23. Pat

    How does using a ‘sugar blend’ (half sugar/half stevia) compare to cutting the amount of pure sugar in a recipe?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Pat, don’t know – haven’t tested that yet. We hope to test alternative sugars sometime in the future. If you try a blend, let us all know how it comes out, OK? PJH

  24. Janet

    Thank you so much for this post. Now if there were just a way to modify the butter content or better yet use oil as in your Cake Pan Cake. Which is absolutely delicious by the way!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Some other cake recipes do call for oil, Janet! You might like our Choco-nilla Cake, Lemon Chiffon Cake, Spicy Cake Pan Cake, and others like it that use vegetable oil as the primary fat in the formula. Check them all out here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. RLM

      Janet – The term ‘vegetable oil’ is really a marketing label, as most oils sold under that name are highly processed substances that just did not exist before food was ‘manufactured’. They are really seed oils, and if you do some research into how they are made (using synthetic chemical solvents, and chemical deodorizers to cover the rancid odor – which does not alter the fact that the rancidity is still there… etc) you may not be so comfortable consuming them.

      Exceptions would be things like olive oil IF you can get the real thing. Most olive oil from Italy is not pure olive oil. They dilute or substitute cheap industrial seed oils (like corn and soy oil) for olive oil, and sometimes use chemicals, including toxic ones, to help cover the off flavors this creates.

      Just a few decades ago, it was common to cook and bake with lard and tallow, in addition to butter. If you have never had homemade doughnuts made with fresh lard (not partially hydrogenated – and ideally from pigs raised outdoors and on a natural forage-based diet) you have never had a doughnut. This article was about cakes… but the stuff sold as doughnuts taste like ground cardboard and sugar.

      Most cakes don’t taste much better, though reducing the sugar is a great first step! We also prefer cakes made with ground nuts instead of grain flours, which we always knew as tortes. Yes, with lots of creamy butter lightly flavored and sweetened. Of course, fresh butter from traditional dairy breeds raised on pasture is as different as those cupcakes sold in stores that never go bad are from what a good baker makes at home!

  25. Lori

    Wow! What a great article! I have wondered about the necessity of the full amount of sugar in recipes many times, and I wish all companies would take our nation’s sugar addiction seriously as King Arthur has. Could you all possibly try this experiment with cookies as well so that we know how to reduce the amount in those types of recipes?

    Reply
  26. Carole Bojan Miller

    Thanks for article and research you’ve done. I’ve had to cut back on white sugar in my diet due to cancer and this will be a big help. Will any of your packaged cake mixes or scones be considered for less sugar in the future?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Carole, I’m not sure what mixes are currently in the development pipeline, but who knows, some day we may offer lower-sugar mixes — I’ll bet they’d be pretty popular. PJH

  27. Rosemary

    Thank you so much for very informative articles on sugar reduction. In general, my understanding is that at some level the reduction in sugar does not affect, for the most part, the texture. I always thought that reducing the amount of sugar would result in an inedible cake, muffin, or cookie. If you want the sweetness in a cake,
    can you add some other sweetener – stevia, Splenda etc. without affecting the results you got? Does this same result occur is you reduced other sweeteners – honey, agave, etc.?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Rosemary, sugar reduction tends to affect both texture and taste in most baked goods, including when the sugar you reduce is liquid (e.g., honey). But “affect” doesn’t mean “make inedible.” I propose that lower-sugar cakes can taste even better than their full-sugar counterparts, simply because you can taste more of the ingredients (like butter, or vanilla). That’s a good question, can you add stevia or another sweetener to increase sweetness without affecting texture; it sounds like it would work, though I haven’t tested it. We hope to test baking with alternative sugars sometime in the future. PJH

  28. Joan Solders

    My sister-in-law, used honey when baking and also in cooking. This method was used in the great depression. People do say honey is better than sugar. This might be another way for baking.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Joan, nutritionally speaking, honey and sugar are identical. But some do prefer the flavor of honey, and it’s certainly more naturally produced than manufactured cane sugar. PJH

  29. RobL

    Come on.
    Seriously?
    You are eating cake after all.
    You want less sugar? Eat less cake. Eat an apple, preferably Granny Smith.
    You’re going to take 5 tsp out of a cup of sugar, and say to yourself, “Wow, THAT
    will make a difference in my consumption of sugar.” WHAAAAAT????
    You are still consuming 43 tsp of sugar, instead of 48. Eat one less cake out of
    two or three in a month, and you’ve cut your cake-sugar calories by a third, or in half. I love cake. I MAKE A TON OF CAKES. People clamor for my cakes.
    HOWEVER, if you want to cut sugar, cut sugar by eating less of a product which requires sugar. Don’t destroy the good things in life, eat them, make them with
    their full complement of sugar. Make them the best damn cakes you can.
    Just use common sense, and moderation.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Rob, I agree, up to a point – but why not cut the sugar if you can get the exact same texture, and better taste? Many cakes are so overwhelmingly sweet, you can’t taste anything BUT the sugar. I’m a big proponent of eating less of a great dessert, rather than more of a so-so one; but believe me, you can still make great cakes with less sugar — even if it’s only a little bit less. PJH

  30. Carol

    Finally glad to have the data to support what I’ve been doing for years with my cakes. Most cakes taste too sweet for me so I always cut the sugar by 25% to start with and then adjust the amount based on how the initial cake came out.

    I also use this reduction technique for homemade brownies.

    Thanks King Arthur

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Carol, thanks for the feedback from someone who’s already gone this route — very reassuring for those about to give it a try. PJH

  31. Jane

    I am an 80 year old that loves baking for my extended family. I loved reading everyone’s posts. I never use the full amount of sugar called for. Many in my family have celiac so I do most of my baking gluten free. I love your gluten free recipes. They are the best. My great grand children love your gluten free pizza recipe. Thanks so much.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      And Jane, thank YOU for continuing to provide your family with home-baked goodies well into your “senior citizenship!” I hope you continue to enjoy good times in the kitchen for years to come. PJH

  32. Susan M

    The post about sugar reduction in cookies was so well received by your readers, I’m glad that KAF has continued to pursue this interest by exploring the same topic in cakes. Might this impact how you develop future recipes going forward?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Susan, we won’t automatically lower the sugar in all of our new recipes; but I do hope going forward we can suggest lower sugar options on a regular basis. Thanks for the support — PJH

  33. Katharine O'Connell

    For the past 10 years, I have been reducing sugar in all my baked goods by 30% with little to no sacrifice in texture. Works well for cookies, quick breads, muffins too. Sometimes brownies need the full amount but otherwise everything rises well and has a nice texture. Thanks for the scientific testing!

    Reply
  34. Gaye Gates

    Lets face it I use sugar substitue ie:- Stevia or Canderel for us living in the UK. I am diabetic.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      While we did do some experimenting with sugar alternatives a while back, we don’t have any definitive answers about using these ingredients in your baking. If you’d like to try replacing the sugar with them, we encourage you to give it a try, following the instructions on the package. Let your taste buds be the guide here–we hope you can find a product that pleases your palate! Kye@KAF

  35. Jennie Durren

    I love these tips. I find many cakes to be too sweet for me and am trying to cut sugar for health reasons, but I love to bake. Thanks for testing and sharing!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Sure, Marilyn – we’ve recently made the blog much easier to print. Go for it! PJH

  36. Dana

    Apple sauce is a great substitute for a portion of the sugar (or the butter!) in some cakes and even cookies. It’ll make cookies softer which can be nice. Look for all natural apple sauce with no added sugar or sweeteners. Great article! Thanks for the info. I love experimenting with cake and cookie recipes to make them healthier for my kids (usually aiming for less sugar and more fiber). Love King Arthur Flour. Mom says it’s the best, and she taught me how to bake 🙂

    Reply
  37. Filiz

    I’ve been trying different reductions of sugar since my husband became a diabetic. I love to bake, and it is difficult but possible. Most sweets have too much sugar anyway. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Reply

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