Perfect Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Made from 5 ingredients, this is perfect Swiss meringue buttercream. Written in easy terms with in-depth instructions and troubleshooting tips, this post teaches you how to make the best meringue buttercream even if you’ve failed before or if it’s your first try. This frosting is creamy, silky smooth, holds its shape beautifully, and the best part– and why everyone loves it– is that it’s not extra sweet like traditional American vanilla buttercream.

swiss meringue buttercream

Do you want to master Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC) but are too nervous to try it? I get it, the thought of making meringue as the base of a frosting sounds complicated, timely, and intimidating. Let me break down that barrier for you– this recipe is where you start.


What is Swiss Meringue Buttercream?

Swiss meringue buttercream joins other varieties– French and Italian– as a stable, not overly sweet frosting. The process for each is a little different, but the Swiss method is arguably the easiest. Swiss meringue buttercream is made from cooked egg whites and sugar, butter, and flavorings like vanilla and salt. Whip the cooked egg whites and sugar into stiff peaks, then slowly add the butter before adding flavors. It’s out-of-this-world creamy, extra smooth, and the perfect sweetness for any confection. The whipping process is long and where some trouble can start, including never reaching stiff peaks. The butter can also melt, leaving you with SMBC soup. Or you can over-whip everything into curdles.

Today I’m putting you on the right SMBC track, plus there’s usually a fix for everything– and I teach you how in this post!

This Swiss Meringue Buttercream Is:

  • Made from 5 basic ingredients
  • Silky smooth and buttery
  • Thick and ultra creamy
  • Perfect for piping or spreading
  • Flavored with vanilla and a touch of salt
  • Not cloyingly sweet like traditional frosting

vanilla swiss meringue buttercream

Ingredients

Let me explain why each ingredient is important. Feel free to keep scrolling to the full recipe written below.

  1. Egg Whites: Egg whites and sugar form the meringue. For best success, I recommend using fresh eggs instead of carton egg whites. Here are all my recipes using leftover egg yolks. Success tip: Eggs separate much easier when they’re cold.
  2. Granulated Sugar: Use regular granulated sugar, not confectioners’ sugar.
  3. Unsalted Butter: Butter turns meringue into meringue buttercream. I recommend unsalted butter because salted butter tastes overpowering. Keep in mind that the frosting will turn soupy and thin if the butter is too warm. Make sure you’re using butter that is slightly cooler than proper room temperature butter. Remove butter from the refrigerator and set it out for just 30-40 minutes before you need to use it. It should be cool to the touch, about 60°F (16°C). For accuracy, I recommend using an instant read thermometer. Cut butter into Tablespoon size pieces before using.
  4. Vanilla Extract: Adds flavor. See FAQs below for other flavor options.
  5. Salt: Some SMBC recipes don’t use salt, but I strongly recommend it for another layer of flavor. You may be wondering why you can’t just use salted butter and skip the added salt, so make sure you review Salted Vs Unsalted Butter in Baking.

Swiss meringue buttercream on cupcakes


Swiss Meringue Buttercream Video Tutorial

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How to Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Here’s an overview of the steps. Full instructions available in the recipe below. Feel free to keep scrolling to the full recipe if you’d like!

  1. Get rid of any grease residue. Wipe all tools that will touch the meringue with a little lemon juice or white vinegar. Grease or fat prevents your meringue from setting up.
  2. Separate the eggs. Save the yolks for another recipe.
  3. Cook the egg whites & sugar: Whisk sugar & egg whites together, then set the bowl over a saucepan filled with simmering water. Do not let the bottom of the mixing bowl touch the water. Whisk the whites and sugar constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture has thinned out. The mixture will be thick and tacky at first, then thin out and appear frothy on top. To test that it’s ready, you can use your finger or an instant read thermometer. Lightly and quickly dip your finger (it’s very hot, be careful) and rub the mixture between your thumb and finger. You shouldn’t feel any sugar granules. If using a thermometer, the temperature should read 160°F (71°C).
  4. Whip it: Transfer warm mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (if you aren’t already using the metal bowl that comes with it). Beat until stiff peaks form and the meringue is no longer warm to touch, at least 10-15 minutes. On particularly humid days, it will take longer. If it’s still not reaching stiff peaks, stop the mixer, place the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 minutes, then return to the mixer and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
  5. If the bowl and meringue still feel warm at this point, wait until both cool to room temperature before adding the butter.
  6. Add the butter and flavor: Switch the stand mixer to the paddle attachment and add the butter 1 Tablespoon at a time. Wait for the butter to fully mix in before adding the next. After all the butter has been added, beat in vanilla and salt. Done!

A small egg separator is a helpful tool in this recipe.

egg whites for meringue

Cook and whisk egg whites and sugar over indirect heat. When it’s ready, the mixture will be frothy on top and thin. (Below, right.)

cooking egg whites and sugar on stove

What Are Stiff Peaks?

After several minutes of mixing, the meringue should form stiff glossy peaks. This means it forms stiff, smooth, and sharp points in the bowl or on the lifted whisk attachment.

Stiff peaks do not droop down.

stiff peaks for Swiss meringue

After reaching stiff peaks, let the meringue cool for a bit, then beat in the butter 1 Tablespoon at a time.

Success Tip: Because butter needs to be on the cooler side, I don’t remove it from the refrigerator and cut it into Tbsp pieces until I start whipping the meringue.

cool room temperature butter

Add vanilla and salt, then you’re done.

Buttercream is now deliciously creamy and smooth!

vanilla swiss meringue buttercream

5 Helpful Tools

  1. Saucepan & heatproof bowl: Cook egg whites and sugar on indirect heat in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. (I just use the metal mixing bowl that comes with a stand mixer.) This cooking method is essentially how we cook the eggs in French silk pie and make homemade marshmallow creme. If you own a double boiler, just use that.
  2. Whisk: Constantly whisking the egg whites and sugar as they gently cook is key.
  3. Electric Mixer: Beating the meringue into stiff peaks requires an electric mixer. I strongly recommend a stand mixer, but a handheld mixer can work. Give your arm a break every few minutes because the beating steps are tiresome. A handheld mixer will take longer to beat the meringue, too.
  4. Egg Separator: Though not required, it’s vastly helpful to have an egg separator to ensure no yolks make it into the mixing bowl. I generally recommend stocking your kitchen with an egg separator because they’re an inexpensive tool you can use for so many recipes.
  5. Instant Read Thermometer: Though also not required, it’s helpful to have an instant read thermometer (or a candy/oil thermometer) to determine the safe temperature of cooked egg whites, as well as the ideal temperature for the butter. Less mistakes this way.

FAQS:

  • Is it safe to eat? Provided you aren’t allergic to any of these ingredients, yes. The eggs are cooked to 160°F (71°C), which is considered safe to eat for everyone including pregnant women and children. As always, use your best judgement and feel free to consult a Dr if you’re concerned.
  • Does SMBC crust? No, Swiss meringue buttercream does not crust or dry out like American buttercream can. That’s why SMBC is excellent for creating the smoothest frosting detail on cakes and perfectly piped (yet still fluffy tasting!) designs.
  • Is it stable? Yes, Swiss meringue buttercream is stable at room temperature. Though if eating on a particularly humid day, keep your frosted confections in the refrigerator as close to serving as you can. You can use SMBC under fondant-topped cakes and confections, too.
  • Can I add flavors? Replace some (about 1 teaspoon) of vanilla extract with 1 teaspoon of another flavor extract such as lemon, coconut, orange, maple, or even 1 teaspoon of espresso powder. Taste, then add a touch more if desired. For potent extracts, like peppermint or almond, replace 1 teaspoon of the vanilla with just 1/2 teaspoon. For chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, beat 8 ounces of pure melted and slightly cooled chocolate into the buttercream when you add the vanilla and salt. Make sure you’re using pure baking chocolate (the 4 ounce bars) like Baker’s or Ghirardelli brands found in the baking aisle.
  • Can I add food coloring? Yes and it’s best to tint SMBC with gel food coloring so you aren’t adding a lot of extra liquid. Beat food coloring into the frosting on low speed after you add the vanilla extract and salt.
  • Can you freeze Swiss meringue buttercream or make it ahead? Yes. Swiss meringue buttercream is great left covered at room temperature for 1-2 days, but after that, refrigerate it for up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months. If freezing, store in an airtight container, then thaw it at room temperature on the counter. Once completely at room temperature, about 72°F (22°C), place into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat for 2-3 minutes until creamy again. If it separates or curdles, see troubleshooting tips below.

curdled thick swiss meringue buttercream disaster

Pictured above: Curdled buttercream! Let’s fix it.

Troubleshooting Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  1. Meringue Won’t Reach Stiff Peaks: Step 4 in the recipe below requires a long period of mixing the cooked egg whites and sugar together into stiff peaks. This mixture (the meringue) will never reach stiff peaks if there was a drop of egg yolk (fat) or grease in the mixture, mixing bowl, or on any tools you are using. Wipe down all of your tools with lemon juice or white vinegar, use an egg separator, and separate and add the egg whites one at a time to the mixing bowl. These are all instructions listed out in the recipe below. It’s also helpful to avoid making this on particularly humid days where there’s extra moisture in the air. If you did all of this and it’s still not reaching stiff peaks, the meringue could be too warm or it needs a break. See next.
  2. My Mixer Needs a Break: By all means, give it a break! Mixers can tire out while beating the cooked egg whites and sugar because this step requires a long period of mixing. If your mixer and its motor needs a break, it’s likely your meringue needs a break too. Stop what you’re doing, remove the whisk attachment (or beaters if you’re using a hand mixer), place the attachment/beaters in the bowl with the meringue, and refrigerate it all (covered or uncovered, doesn’t matter) for 20-30 minutes. This gives your mixer, as well as the meringue and mixing bowl, a chance to cool down. (Important: though it’s best to begin whipping the cooked egg/sugar while it’s still warm, it could simply need a cool break halfway through reaching stiff peaks.)
  3. Buttercream is Curdled/Too Thick: If your meringue has separated, curdled, or is too thick at any point after you mix in all of the butter, just keep beating because it will eventually come together. If it’s only getting thicker and chunkier, there’s a quick fix– and it’s my favorite. Place the mixture in your heat-proof bowl back over a pot of 2 inches of simmering water. Without stirring, let the edges of the meringue warm up and become liquid (the center of the meringue will still be solid), about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and return to the mixer. Beat meringue on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to medium-high speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. I have to do this 75% of the time, but I LOVE it because partially melting the SMBC then re-whipping actually creates a creamier frosting.
  4. Buttercream is Soupy/Too Thin: If your mixture has become too thin and soupy after you add the butter, your butter was likely too warm or the meringue was still too warm. Have no fear– this is fixable by bringing down its temperature. Place the entire bowl in the refrigerator (covered or uncovered, doesn’t matter) for 20 minutes to cool down, then return it to the mixer and beat on medium-high speed until thickened. Any longer than this will solidify the butter, so only refrigerate in 20 minute spurts. If it’s still soupy, place back in the refrigerator for longer before re-whipping again.
  5. Buttercream Only Tastes like Butter: The main ingredient, besides egg whites, is butter. Make sure you’re using unsalted butter because salted butter leaves your frosting with an overwhelmingly salty/buttery flavor. Use pure vanilla extract to flavor it and add a pinch of regular table salt. Other flavored extracts work too– see the Ingredients section above.
  6. Buttercream Solidified in the Refrigerator: There’s a lot of butter in this frosting, so if it’s stored in a bowl in the refrigerator, it will solidify into one large mass just like a bowl of cookie dough. Two ways to fix this: sit it on the counter and bring it to room temperature. Once completely at room temperature, about 72°F (22°C), place into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat for 2-3 minutes until creamy again. If you don’t have time to wait for it to come to room temperature or if your home isn’t warm enough, follow the same instructions as #3 in this list (Buttercream is Curdled/Too Thick). Placing over gentle heat will melt the edges and when whipped, the melty edges and solid center will come together into 1 smooth frosting.

cupcakes with Swiss meringue buttercream

I know it seems complicated, but as long as you remain patient, read through this post, watch the video, prepare yourself by reviewing the recipe before beginning, you will be rewarded with the most luscious, not-overly-sweet frosting ever.


How to Use It:

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swiss meringue buttercream

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 5 cups
  • Category: Frosting
  • Method: Whipping
  • Cuisine: European

Description

This is vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream perfection. It’s the ideal balance of sweet and creamy, without being as cloyingly sugary as American buttercream. (This is a far cry from how sweet that is!) Thick, sturdy, and perfectly pipe-able. This in-depth recipe sets you up for success on your 1st try.


Ingredients

  • 6 large egg whites (240g)
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 350g) unsalted butter, softened but still cool and cut into Tbsp size pieces (*see note*)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Watch the video tutorial above, review the troubleshooting tips, and read the recipe in full before beginning. Make sure all the tools you are using are completely cleaned, dried, and grease-free. A quick wipe with a little lemon juice or white vinegar is very helpful.
  2. Separate the eggs: If you haven’t done so yet, separate the eggs first. Separate 1 egg white in a small bowl, then place the egg white in your heatproof mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining egg whites. This way, if a yolk breaks in one of them, you don’t waste the whole batch.
  3. Whisk sugar into the egg whites, then set the bowl over a saucepan filled with just two inches of simmering water over medium heat. Do not let the bottom of the egg whites bowl touch the water. Whisk the whites and sugar constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture has thinned out, about 4 minutes. The mixture will be thick and tacky at first, then thin out and be frothy white on top. To test that it’s ready, you can use your finger or an instant read thermometer. Lightly and quickly dip your finger (it’s very hot, be careful) and rub the mixture between your thumb and finger. You shouldn’t feel any sugar granules. If using a thermometer, the temperature should read 160°F (71°C).
  4. No need to let it cool down to start this next step– it’s important to begin mixing while it is still warm. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (if you aren’t already using the metal bowl that comes with it). You can use a hand mixer instead, but this step takes awhile and your arm tires quickly. On medium-high speed, beat the mixture until stiff glossy peaks form and the meringue is no longer warm to the touch, at least 10-15 minutes. On particularly humid days, this has taken me up to 17-18 minutes. If it’s still not reaching stiff peaks, stop the mixer, place the bowl–uncovered–in the refrigerator for 10 minutes, then return to the mixer and continue beating until stiff peaks form. (This has always worked for me when it’s taking forever to reach stiff peaks.)
  5. If the bowl and meringue still feel warm, wait until both cool to room temperature before adding the butter in the next step. Feel free to place it in the refrigerator. A warm bowl and meringue will melt the butter.
  6. Switch the stand mixer to the paddle attachment. On medium-high speed, add the butter 1 Tablespoon at a time. Wait for the butter to fully mix in before adding the next Tablespoon. After all the butter has been added, turn the mixer down to medium speed and fully beat in the vanilla and salt, about 30 seconds.
  7. Your Swiss meringue buttercream should be thick, creamy, and silky smooth and is ready to use on any cake, cupcake, or other confection.
  8. Too Thick or Too Thin: If your meringue has separated, curdled, or is too thick at any point after you mix in all of the butter, place the mixture in your heat-proof bowl back over a pot of 2 inches of simmering water. Without stirring, let the edges of the meringue warm up and become liquid (the center of the meringue will still be solid), about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and return to the mixer. Beat meringue on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to medium-high speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Works every time. If your mixture has become too thin and soupy after you add the butter, place the entire bowl in the refrigerator (covered or uncovered, doesn’t matter) for 20 minutes to cool down, then return it to the mixer and beat on medium-high speed until thickened. Any longer than this will solidify the butter, so only refrigerate in 20 minute spurts. If it’s still soupy, place back in the refrigerator for longer before re-whipping again. More troubleshooting tips in the post above.

Notes

  1. Make-Ahead, Storing, & Freezing Instructions: Swiss meringue buttercream is great left covered at room temperature for 1-2 days, but after that, refrigerate it for up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months. If freezing, store in an airtight container, then thaw it at room temperature on the counter. Once completely at room temperature, about 72°F (22°C), place into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat for 2-3 minutes until creamy again. If it separates or curdles, see step 8.
  2. Yield: This recipe yields about 5 cups of frosting, which is enough to fill and frost a two layer 9-inch cake with a generous amount, to fill and frost a three layer 9-inch cake with just enough frosting, to lightly frost 2 dozen cupcakes, to heavily frost 1 dozen cupcakes (I had just enough for the huge swirls on 12 of the pictured cupcakes), or a 9×13 inch sheet cake (with some frosting leftover).
  3. Egg Whites: For best success, I recommend using fresh eggs instead of carton egg whites. Here are all my recipes using leftover egg yolks. Eggs separate much easier when they’re cold. Separate the egg whites one at a time and place the egg white into a large heat-proof mixing bowl (or a double boiler or the metal mixing bowl from your stand mixer) before separating the next. This way, if a yolk breaks in one of them, you don’t waste the whole batch.
  4. There’s almost always a way to fix “ruined” Swiss Meringue Buttercream and it usually has to do with temperature. See step 8 as well as my troubleshooting tips in the post above.
  5. Butter: This buttercream will thin out and become liquid-y if the butter is too warm. Make sure you’re using butter that is slightly cooler than proper room temperature butter. Remove butter from the refrigerator and set it out for just 30-40 minutes before you need to add it to the meringue. Sometimes meringue takes longer than usual or it needs a break (see Troubleshooting above) and in that case, you should place the butter back into the refrigerator for a few minutes so it doesn’t get too warm sitting out. The butter should be cool to the touch. For accuracy, I recommend using an instant read thermometer. Butter should be 60°F (16°C).
  6. Flavors & Colors: For flavor ideas including chocolate, see my Can I add flavors? FAQ above. For coloring, it’s best to tint this frosting with gel food coloring so you aren’t adding a lot of extra liquid. Beat food coloring into the frosting on low speed after you add the vanilla extract and salt.
  7. Half or Larger Batch: You can halve this recipe. The egg white/sugar mixture won’t take as long to cook and the meringue won’t take as long to reach stiff peaks. I do not recommend making larger batches at a time because it will quickly overcrowd and wear out your mixer. If you need more batches, make them all separately.

Adapted from Martha Stewart. I found it needed less butter, 1 more egg white, and more sugar in order to stabilize properly.

Keywords: Swiss meringue buttercream, meringue, frosting

531 Comments

  1. Thank you for this lovely recipe and all the thoughtful suggestions. I am so happy to have a foolproof guide to SMB! So refreshing in a world of “American Buttercream”. There is a place for the powdered sugar kind SMB is an elegant way to go!

    1. I had a very bad experience with this recipe. I did everything as it was mentioned but the egg white mixture didn’t whip up even though I whipped with a stand mixer for an hour. It was just really disappointing to have to throw everything out after spending so much effort on it. 🙁

  2. Great taste but was not stable at all. Not worth it, I’ll stick to American buttercream

  3. I loved the way this turned out! Can I favor this with lemon juice instead of the extracts mentioned above?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Shana! We haven’t successfully tested this Swiss Meringue Buttercream with fresh lemon juice. The texture is always off. We prefer lemon extract, though a little lemon zest as well would be tasty.

  4. First time making this.
    The meringue took forever to whip to stiff pèaks so I wasnt sure it was going to to turn out well but I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.
    very creamy with a very interesting taste

  5. Angelic Clement says:

    Absolutely love this recipe, have used it numerous times. Was wondering if I could add cocoa powder to make it chocolate flavored?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Angelic, For chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, beat 8 ounces of pure melted and slightly cooled chocolate into the buttercream when you add the vanilla and salt. Make sure you’re using pure baking chocolate (the 4 ounce bars) like Baker’s or Ghirardelli brands found in the baking aisle.

  6. Hi Sally!
    This recipe looks so amazing and I’ve been wanting to try it since you posted it! I’m going to try this weekend and I have two questions:
    1) In Canada the recommendation is to cook eggs to 165F, and I always like to go a few degrees higher to be safe. I’d be comfortable going only to 160F if I used pasteurized egg whites. My question is, would it be better to just use pasteurized eggs whites and cook to only 160F or use egg whites from whole eggs and cook to 165-170F?
    2) If I reduced the butter by about a third would it still set up properly? I’d like it to be a bit more sweet and marshmallowy and a bit less buttery. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Marie! Glad to help. 1) Either works, but feel free to cool the egg whites from whole eggs to be a little warmer. 2) Yes, the frosting will still come out just fine if you reduce the butter. However, it won’t be as stable and fluffy.

      1. Thank you so much Sally!

      2. I made this tonight, and WOW!! This is the one of the best frostings I’ve ever tasted. My family loves American buttercream, but I’m always looking for something more marshmallowy in texture, but not as sweet. I ended up using the full butter in the end and so glad I did. It was perfect. Thank you so much for this recipe!

  7. I love this recipe! It’s become my go-to for swiss meringue buttercream! I especially love how I don’t need to use a thermometer to achieve sweet, cloudy greatness. I was wondering: Can I add peanut butter to it in order to flavor it, or would it mess with the consistency?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sabrina, We’ve made a few other flavors, but actually haven’t tested it with peanut butter. I would research some peanut butter SMBC to get some inspiration! Do you have peanut butter powder? That should work nicely too.

      1. So, I added half a cup of peanut butter to the finished product and I beat it on high for a minute or so. It turned out to be delightful. The consistency did not change, which was a relief. I highly recommend using this peanut butter version of this recipe with sally’s banana cake. Divine.

  8. I have tried this several times. Each time I check the temperature and it is 160 F and I don’t feel any grains between my fingers. However, after whipping it and adding the unsalted butter, if feels a little grainy. I can taste the grains in my teeth as well. Please tell me what I am doing wrong.

  9. Hi! I want to make this buttercream frosting for my dad’s birthday this coming week but I’m worried that it might not come out great since I only have a handheld mixer that doesn’t have a paddle attachment. What should I do?

  10. Melanie Lovelace says:

    I made 3 batches of this for my little girls 2nd Birthday cake. Your instructions, accompanied with possible problems that I might encounter, were everything I needed! Everyone thought it was the best icing they ever had. The only issue I encountered was cooling the meringue down when adding he butter. I struggled with batch 1 and 2, but by batch 3 I had it figured out. I put the meringue and my paddle in the fridge for 10 minutes then started whipping and adding butter. The meringue was warm enough that the butter incorporated perfectly. When I was almost done adding the butter, I put some frozen veggies around my mixing bowl and the icing thickened up. It was not ideal, but it worked. Thanks again for your delicious recipe.

  11. im not sure if it turned out the way it was suppose to….it tasted pretty light, but sweet and a bit greasy tbh…i feel like i followed all the steps and even saved it after it curdled…maybe SMBC just isnt the icing for me….i prefer a cooked flour buttercream to this personally

  12. I was looking at the BEST strawberry frosting but really don’t like frosting to be overly sweet. Have you tried adding freeze dried strawberries to SMBC? I’m thinking about 2oz for this volume and just fold it in at the end. Any recommendations??

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nevena, You can definitely turn this into strawberry SMBC. I recommend adding 1/2 cup of freeze-dried strawberry powder along with the vanilla extract and salt. No other changes to the recipe necessary.

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