Runzas (Bierocks)

The Runza: Probably the original Hot Pocket! A sweet home-made dough stuffed with a ground beef/cabbage mixture. This recipe walks you through all the steps

The Runza or Bierock

When my baby Sis posted she was making Runzas, I became inspired. She fell in love with them during her years in the Cornhusker state, and knows her Runza. Originally peasant food, the Runza was brought to Nebraska by Germans from the Volga region of Russia. I’m confident, following the instructions below, that even a non Volgan can turn out beautiful Runzas on their first try. 🙂

Freshly Baked Runza - you can't imagine how good they smell!

Freshly Baked Runza – you can’t imagine how good they smell!

Just what is a Runza? “They’re something like a Bierock” one person posts; another says “They’re nothing like a Bierock,” and a third chimes in that “They are Bierocks” which doesn’t help much if you’ve never had a Runza OR a Bierock!! It turns out a Runza IS a Bierock, just called Runza by a chain of the same name.

I know I’ll be safe in saying a Runza is a pocket of dough traditionally wrapped around a meat, cabbage or sauerkraut, and onion filling, and I know I can be safe in saying they’re delicious! My son and his friends thought they tasted a little like a White Castle burger, probably because the meat is cooked with the onions.

Almost everything else about Runzas is hotly debated:  Should they have spices other than salt and pepper, should the dough be sweet or plain? Should the filling be cabbage or sauerkraut? Should there be cheese, and if so, what kind? Does the cheese go in before or after baking? How thin/thick should the dough be? Should they be small or large? Should the shape be a half moon, a bun, a square or a rectangle? Should the Runza be allowed to rise before baking? Should the tops be brushed with butter or oil or nothing, and if so, before or after baking? And on & on it goes…

So here’s what I decided on after much research, and multiple batches, along with a few comments on the outcome:

  • Even though my sister doesn’t make hers with a sweet dough, most of the recipes I found with homemade dough used 1/2 cup of sugar, and some more. I tried it with 2 tablespoons, and the dough took forever to rise and baked rather dry and crusty. A half a cup, to me, almost exactly like King’s Hawaiian bread, which was wonderful with the Runza baked with allspice, but a little strange with a Runza that had only pepper – the cheese “saved” those. More sugar would have been cloying.
  • My sister uses salt and pepper only – many insisted on white pepper as a “secret ingredient” so I figured, why not and used a little of both peppers along with the salt, shunning all other spices. Shhh – don’t tell my sister. They were a bit bland. The second batch included 1/4 teaspoon of allspice as I’ve seen in old recipes. It seems very obvious from the photo of the Runza on (bottom of the page) that the commercial version contains allspice and/or clove – the color is a dead give away and may very well be the “elusive” taste that many bloggers say can’t be duplicated. The third batch, I added a bit of clove along with the allspice – about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, I tasted as I went along. Perfection!
  • It seems the standard size is 12 Runza to a dough recipe, and that is how I made them. My brother-in-law likes his larger and my sister likes her smaller. The commercial Runza are rectangular, but Runzas are much easier to make in a square shape, and a square is easier than a bun or a half moon. I settled on a square, about 5 x 5 after trying them larger. The larger ones rose a bit better, the smaller were denser, and I used about the same amount of filling in each.
  • I let the Runza rise for about 20 minutes before baking while my oven preheated, and after baking, while still warm, brushed some of the tops with butter. I just opened a stick of butter and ran it over the tops, letting it melt on the Runza. The ones with butter were perfect, and the dough was wonderful. Note added: When I baked these in the winter, I found I had to add a little oil to the top before baking or they dried out in the low humidity and didn’t rise properly.
  • After trying the Runzas without cheese, I followed my sister’s advice and added what seems to be a very traditional (???) ingredient – a slice of American cheese, stuffed into the hot Runza to melt. This was a leap of faith for me, but it made all the difference in the world. I’m sure some Volgan great, great Grandmother is rolling in her grave! Note added: When I made the Runza with a little allspice and clove, they didn’t *need* the cheese…
My sis says open the Runza & jam cheese in!

My sis says open the Runza & jam cheese in!

Don’t be afraid to try the recipe with the homemade dough – traditional Runza dough is easy to work with and very manageable, even when done by hand. The dough contains a lot of yeast and quite a bit of sugar; it rises very quickly, so this isn’t an all day project. While regular bread dough is fine, most of the very old recipes I found use this sweeter version of dough. It’s really outstanding.

If you’ve haven’t made much bread, this is the recipe to try! You’ll look like a hero – plus, any imperfections are charming and attest to the fact that they’re homemade. Using frozen bread or bun dough is a perfectly acceptable shortcut, though. Of interest is that the standard dough for the Runza weighs 2.6 pounds, and a standard frozen loaf is one pound.

In my mind this recipe cries out for tinkering, additions and variations…see below for some ideas, under Put Your Own Spin on It.  As far as cost, I won’t detail it out this time, but try to buy your hamburger on sale and get a decent price on the cheese. Use the yeast in the jar and you’ll pay less than for the packets. The plain Runza ran about $3.17 for the filling and $1.03 for the dough.

Our leftover Runza reheated in the microwave perfectly, about 2 minutes, loosely wrapped in a paper napkin or paper towel, but I understand these freeze very well (after they’ve cooled.) Reheat in foil in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Many people double the recipe, simply because if they’re making 12, why not make 24 and get the mess over with?

I'm imagining someone's Great Grandfather carrying his Bierock off to the fields.

I’m imagining someone’s Great Grandfather carrying his Bierock off to the fields.

Bierocks or Runza

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Runza Dough:

This dough mixes up a little differently from a standard dough. First you mix the ingredients into a kind of slurry, then add the remaining flour.

  • 4 1/2 cups of flour, divided into 1 3/4 cups and 2 3/4 cups
  • 2 packages of yeast or four and 1/2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of shortening (I used butter)
  • 2 eggs

In a large mixing bowl, place the 1 3/4 cup of flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Whisk together and set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the milk, water and shortening to 120 degrees. (note: between 110 to 120 is the standard temperature to heat liquid when adding it to a flour mixture that already contains the yeast, but make certain the temperature is not over 120.) Pour over the flour/sugar/salt mixture and stir to combine. Add eggs. Mix by hand or by hand mixer. (I mixed mine by hand with a stiff spatula) but many recipes suggest you use a mixer. Beat for about three minutes or so.

Stir in remaining flour, turn out and knead for a short time, three or four minutes, adding in a little extra flour if it’s too tacky. Your dough should be smooth and elastic when done, but still quite soft, and slightly tacky to the touch…this dough does not require the amount of kneading a regular loaf of white bread does. It’s actually more like a sweet dough (like one would use for cinnamon rolls.)

If your dough is not soft – has too much flour or is overly kneaded, your Runza won’t rise properly and will be lumpy, so err on the side of too little flour over too much. If your dough is dry, knead in a little more water, but it is always easier to add more flour than water.

Place in an oiled pan, then turn the dough over (so all is coated with oil) cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for about an hour until doubled in size. Meanwhile, make your filling (below) and allow to cool, and then proceed to Filling and Baking.

Runza Filling:
  • 1 pound ground beef (I’ve read that you should not use a lean ground beef for more authentifc flavor)
  • 2 small or one large onion, chopped finely
  • 1 small head of cabbage or 1/2 a large, chopped fairly finely. Coleslaw mix is a bit too fine, but large chunks of cabbage tend to be unattractive.
  • salt and pepper – season generously after the filling is cooked, to taste; these should be quite peppery, I used about 1/2 teaspoon total of white and black pepper and a teaspoon of salt.
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional but highly recommended)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon clove (optional but highly recommended)

In a good-sized pan, cook hamburger and onion until hamburger is cooked through and onion is fairly translucent. Add in chopped cabbage and cook until tender and wilted. Excess moisture can cause soggy bottoms in a Runza, so make sure your filling isn’t too wet. Some use a slotted spoon, but the problem with that is the spices are drained away with the juices.

Place the filling in a colander and allow to drain for about 15 minutes as it cools. Return to pan and add salt, peppers, clove and allspice to taste. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Proceed to Filling and Baking, below.

Filling and Baking:

Gently punch down and divide the dough into two portions, covering one part with a towel or plastic wrap. Lightly flour your counter and rolling pin and roll dough into a rectangle about 10″ by 15″.

If dough is properly made, very little flour should be necessary. If it sticks, work a bit more flour as you roll by dusting under the dough and on the rolling pin. If the dough doesn’t roll out smoothly, it may be possible it is too dry. Lightly sprinkle the faintest amount of water on it as you roll out and see if that helps.

Using a pizza cutter, trim the edges and divide into six 5″ by 5″ squares.

Using a slotted spoon or filling already drained in a colander, transfer about a half of a cup of the filling to each square. Unless you’re interested in figuring out the exact weight of cabbage and onion, there will always be some variance in the amount of filling. I divide the filling roughly in half, so I can tell if I need to put a little more or a little less in each Runza to use it all up or make it stretch.

Pull up two adjacent corners toward the middle and seal the seams, repeat with the next corner and so on, as shown below. Make certain seams are sealed well – if the dough has become too dry to easily stick easily, run a slightly wet finger next to the edges and proceed. Edges that are not properly sealed will leak.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the Runza on a lightly oiled baking sheet, seam side down. Cover with a clean tea towel. If working at a time of year with low humidity, lightly spray the tops of each Runza so they won’t dry. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Let rise about 20 minutes or so. and perhaps a bit longer in cooler weather (the tops should be smooth.) Note added: Pick up each runza very gently before baking and turn over, making certain all seams are still sealed, then replace on baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from baking sheet and place on a wire rack.

While still warm, brush tops with butter. This is most easily done by opening the end of a stick of butter and running the end over the tops of the rolls.

From the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com, adapted from

Filling Technique:

The filling technique is pretty straight forward and much easier than it seems it would be.  Warning:  It can be a little messy, but things will turn out just fine in the end!

Put your Own Spin on It:

  • Dough:  As mentioned above, frozen bread or rolls may be substituted for the homemade dough or bun dough. Of interest: the home-made Runza dough weighed 2.6 pounds.
  • One variation I found very intriguing was to roll the dough fairly thinly, fold like a calzone, brush the top with a little egg wash and bake on a preheated pizza stone – this appeared to make a crispier rather than a soft Runza. Something that seemed to be more like a Hot Pocket, for those of you looking for a homemade substitute.
  • Traditional Filling: It seems that many of the older generations did not use ground beef at all, at least our concept of ground beef today. They were made with meat ground by hand – any meat available, and often a mixture of left over meats already cooked: ham, beef, pork, sausage. What ever was available.
  • Fillings: I can think of a zillion fillings that would be absolutely delicious – keeping in mind that a saucy or gravy like filling wouldn’t work for these. How about Hamburger, bacon and cheese? Ham and cheese, or course, immediately comes to mind. How about mushrooms cooked in a little butter and wine, flavored with tarragon or marjoram and paired with Gruyere or Swiss?  I’m imagining a chicken, artichoke basil Runza, served with a little Alfredo sauce. Substituting sausage for some of the hamburger would add a little zing. A barbecue/cheese Runza sounds wonderful.
  • Some say the Runza is a forerunner of the beloved Rueben sandwich – no doubt the sauerkraut Runzas, if this were the case. I’m thinking the Runza would be a great use for left over St. Patrick’s Corned Beef and Cabbage.

Trouble Shooting:

Other than a filling that is too wet or a seam that isn’t sealed, there are two main issues, a dough that’s too dry or one that’s two wet. Luckily, neither affects taste, and I’m sure they were delicious.

Kitchen & Cooking Hack:

A potato masher makes short work of breaking down ground meats.

A potato masher makes short work of breaking down ground meats.

 {Heritage Recipes}

Feedback:

Are you a Runza fan? Do you have a traditional filling your family used, secret spices and believe the Runza shouldn’t be tinkered with? Or are you up for cheese and other “new fangled” combinations?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Runza and any suggestions!

A Runza with Cheese from the chain. Note the coloring, a dead give away it contains spices.

A Runza with Cheese from the chain. Note the coloring, a dead give away it contains spices.

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49 thoughts on “Runzas (Bierocks)

  1. B (Shultz) Hernandez

    My grandmother grew up in a German Mennonite dairy farming family. She always made these with a biscuit-type dough (soft and not sweet), ground beef, onion, shredded carrot and cabbage, salt and pepper.

    These have always been a favorite food of mine!

    • FrugalHausfrau

      That sounds wonderful, too! I just love these and love hearing about all the variations and the good memories everyone seems to have of them! 🙂

  2. Susan Holsan

    Have been making runzas for about 40 years now. About the only difference in mine is the spices. I use oregano instead of the allspice and cloves. But I will have to try it sometime with those spices! I got my recipe at a Chautauqua Fair in Hastings, Nebraska in the mid 1970s at a Czech booth and the oregano was in that recipe. When my 2 boys were home I made triple batches that were gone in about two days! We love our runzas!
    Susan

    • FrugalHausfrau

      Oregano,huh? I can see how good that would be in Runzas! It is so interesting, I haven’t heard that word Chautauqua since I was a kid in the 60’s. My dad used to go to Chautauqua and I never really knew what it was. So I had to google it. My son is the same way…I love cooking for him, it’s a joy and he eats anything (and EVERYTHING!!) and really appreciates my home cooking now that he’s out on his own!

  3. Jules

    Howdy! The runzas of my Texas childhood were made with Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix, and frozen dinner roll dough is very close in texture, though a little harder to work. I live in Ohio now and locals have adapted the traditional New Year’s braised pork and sauerkraut into an appetizer, “sauerkraut balls” which is meat and minced drained kraut rolled meatball size and cooked, many restaurants serve them and they are a must for parties. So I just made runzas with minced fresh pork and drained chopped kraut, seasoned with just enough ketchup and BBq sauce (maybe scant 1/4 cup total) to give the filling a tint other than GRAY, and plenty of allspice and black pepper. They taste great! I’ts pork for me from now on! People here don’t know what a runza is but I’m guessing they will eagerly sample a ‘sauerkraut ball in a bun’.

    • FrugalHausfrau

      Oh wow, what a fun combo, and you can bet I’m going to be googling those pork sauerkraut balls! My Dad (87 now) was just telling me on my last visit how much he wanted sauerkraut!

      Your combo sounds wonderful!! It’s like a mix of tradtional, midwest and texas all combined! I can only imagine the taste!

      Thanks for stopping by and adding to what seems to be a growing collection of variations! I love it!! 🙂

      Mollie

  4. David Fowler

    Greetings, I’ve been searching the web on making bierocks and came across you. I just want to thank you for the excellent job you did in your research and ultimate recipe for making these. As a novice baker, I will use a brioche bread recipie and also as a Texas pit master, different meat. Again, thank you for the time you invested on this subject and I hope for you’re continued success. Sincerely, David Fowler

    • Hi David, and thanks for stopping by! I love that you’re using a different meat, and as a Pit Master, I’m expecting something wonderful and smoked! A Brioche would be an excellent choice, although you couldn’t go wrong with making the bread in this post. Just sayin’, lol!! I’d love to hear how yours turn out, David. They sound like they’re going to be a masterpiece!

      Maybe you’d like to post them on my FB?

      Mollie

  5. I made these today, only variation I added a few scoops of left over mashed potatoes which held the meat mixture together. Great recipe, easy and delicious!😋

  6. sherry

    I love making these, they are so good.
    On a cold night they just seem to make u warm up on the inside.
    When I want to make them in a hurry I have used pizza dough, yah know the ones in those 58 cent pakages., all u do is add hot water. It works great.
    Sometimes i add swiss cheese, mushrooms. And I always use sour krout. Yummy starting to get hungry.
    If using pizza dough make sure u use egg to wipe on top so they brown.

  7. Jani

    AWESOME! I had never heard of these nor made them before! These are amazing! I do the American cheese after taking out of oven! They freeze really well and easy to heat. Just take out and put in plastic or press and seal and heat for 2 minutes power 50… they are just as soft and yummy as the day you made them! My family loves these and so easy to have as a reheat dinner!! Just make fries and vege or fruit and it’s great!! Love this recipe and will always use it!! LOVE this recipe!

    • Hi Jani, they are great, aren’t they! I’m so glad you gave these a try and liked them so well! I actually wish I had one right now!! Thanks so much for stopping by and giving me such a great comment!

      Mollie

  8. Jerry McGuire

    My grandparents (family name Keil) came over to upstate New York from the Black Sea area of Russia around 1904. My grandmother made runzas and taught my mother, and I’ve developed my own recipe from the ones she made. Two things that may be of interest: first, as far as I know, both my grandmother and mother always made these without meat (I doubt my grandmother could afford much meat in Russia). They used a mixture of sauerkraut and mashed, boiled potatoes, pretty heavily dosed with black pepper and some caraway seed–though that may have come with the sauerkraut. Second, these were always called runzas. The name certainly didn’t originate with a Nebraska chain. I’d guess that the term “runza” is a regional variant related to other foods either in Germany, where the family originated, or Russia, where they’d settled before coming here.
    Best,
    J. McGuire

    • Thanks so much for the story and the info!! Always called Runzas! Wow!

      And I have heard of these being made w/o meat, too. I personally think I’d love the sauerkraut/potato mixture. How wonderful that you have such memories/experiences of the Runza and cooking with your Mother and Grandmother.

    • Kelli Casey

      Thank you so much for this post. In a very fustrating and sad day I found this. My grandmother made Bierrocks. We cheat and use frozen bread dough. No one I have ever askd heard of these and yes my great grandparents came down the Volga f I’m Prussia.

      • I hope it brought back some fond memories for you and cheered you up a little bit to see the recipe. I hope it’s spot on, lol! You should try the dough. It has a lot of yeast and that sugar really speeds up the rising and it’s very easy to work with, even if you’re not a big baker. I know a lot of people use the frozen dough or rolls, too, though.

        I love these and am hoping to make them with my grandchildren this Christmas Holiday! We might have a go at some different fillings and hope to make some memories, too.

  9. Ali

    Okay, so I did a little tinkering, I used hamburger, yellow onion sautéed in garlic butter, and Greek spice, (lots), tapatio, Worcester shire sauce,and then mixed in the shredded cabbage and steamed it awhile , then when slightly cooled added Feta cheese, very yummy , however I may try the clove and allspice and maybe some sautéed mushrooms I prefer feta over the other types, there is Also another cheese called mitzithra that is very good but dryer than feta, I also cheated and used frozen rolls, but I think your dough would actually be better ao will try it on next batch, thanks for the initial recipe.

    • Hi Ali – I love all the additions and Mitzithra is a wonderful cheese! I love spaghetti tossed in butter and Mitzithra! Both of those cheeses pack a ton of flavor. As is, the recipe is really down-home and I think we expect our food to be more flavor packed these days! 🙂 Either that or pull out the Sriracha, lol!

  10. Rita

    I remember these from my childhood, I would make them for my family and we all love them. When my son started dating a vegetarian I had to get creative. I used chopped mushroom instead of beef. The vegetation loved them, and they did have a good flavor. I prefer the beef version. Growing up we called them “Cabbage Rolls”

  11. Samantha

    Have you ever frozen the second pan to bake later? If so, what directions would you recommend for baking after freezing?

    • I have not – but I have baked them and then frozen them. If freezing before baking, I would assume that you’d want to put them in the fridge to thaw, which would probably be early the evening before, loosely covered, then as soon as they’ve thawed, put them on the counter to come to room temperature and to rise. That I’ve done with items like cinnamon rolls, for instance.

  12. I made yhem today also with ground elk and ground elk sausage and cabbage onion and clives anf basil they came out delicious melted butter on top and grated cheese and pepper on top and let thrm finish cooking. Yum yum

  13. TERRY A KOHLER

    In the oven right now. I used a box of country white bread mix. Made everything like it says except I cut my dough about 4×6 for a rectangle shape. I pinched the corners together on the ends then pulled it up like a taco and sealed the the longgame top area. They look great only I messed up and buttered them before oven. They smell amazing……ok have to take then out now.

  14. Dayna

    We call these krautbrach’s. When I lived in Ft. Collins CO a Runza restaurant opened back in the 90’s. We use hot roll mix for our dough. Delicious dish! We cut them open and add butter to each one.

  15. Jess

    What a delicious recipe! I added shredded carrots and a packet of dry ranch dressing mix to mine and they were a total hit!

    Before baking I brushed mine with a egg/water mix and it added a great color.

    After baking, I covered with a tea towel for 5 minutes and it truly made all the difference!

  16. Mark

    So almost a year late to this, but have a couple of observations.

    The addition of potatoes is a superb way to stretch the recipe — I have two kids who could clean out a fully-stocked refrigerator in a day, and we always have their friends over here as well. You gotta precook the spuds because they won’t fully cook inside the bierock; adding them to the ground beef when browning it, either cubed or hashed, works very well and sticks the filling together due to the starch in the potatoes releasing during the process. Makes the filling a WHOLE lot easier to work with, too.

    These guys freeze and reheat very well. Make a boatload of them at once and freeze for later use, and you save yourself the mess the next time you want some. Either microwave for a super-soft dough or preheat the oven to 300 and shove ’em in for a crisper result. If you use the conventional oven, another butter or egg wash will help the pastry stay together without burning.

    Around here (north central Kansas) breakfast bierocks are very popular. Add dry-finished scrambled eggs, substitute bacon and/or sausage, grate a hard sharp Cheddar into the finished filling before stuffing and baking them and you have a breakfast sandwich without peer.

    • Mark, thanks, and so glad you took the time for all these hints and helps! And I know just what you mean about the boys – my son can outeat anyone I know, an astonishing amount (and he’s skinny!) and I can really see how much easier it would be to fill with a little starchy potato holding it all together.

      I tried rolling and/or smooshing little balls of dough and filling them in my hand and folding up, but this method of cutting with a pizza cutter worked great – but I had to keep smooshing the filling back together or it would escape!!

      Breakfast Bierocks sound fantastic! Next time, I promise!!

  17. Shirley

    When I lived in Colorado they made and sold these at the Westminister Mall. They made them with cabbage, potatoes , and hamburger meat. The smells were wonderful and the taste was unbelievable good.

    • Hi Shirley, I think that I saw a diner’s drive in and dives episode about that place – or maybe a place nearby. I lived in Colorado for 23 years and still miss it, but never made it to the Westminster mall much – had I only known then…haha! Have a great day and thanks for stopping by and commenting! 🙂

  18. Barbara

    My family loves bierock made with no meat… Just cabbage, onion and lots of allspice. I fry the cabbage and onion in a little vegetable shortening. They are delicious! I make same with meat also… I cook the meat then add it to the cooked cabbage and onion.

    • By the way, my sister very specifically says to bake w/o cheese and then open them up and jam 1/2 slice of AMERICAN cheese in them! So, there you go, there’s that American cheese thing again! 🙂

      It’s an afternoon’s work of a project. Lots of yeast in that dough, though so it rises quickly, and some people just buy a frozen loaf or frozen rolls. They don’t have that sweet taste that this dough has, though.

  19. This reminds me of piroshki. Kramarczuk’s over Nordeast serves pirogies with meat or spinach, which are boiled. It’s great served with a little sour cream and sauerkraut.

    • Funny you mentioned this because these are related to piroshki – I LOVE Kramarczuks and last year a crowd of us went there for my birthday dinner. I feel sometimes I’m dragging my family or friends to strange places! 🙂

      Did you hear that Nye’s Polonaise is going to be closing?

      • Yes. A developer wants to put in condos and an historical preservation group is trying to save the 2 original buildings! So Minneapolis! Kramarczuks is an institution. 🙂

        • Hmm, interesting. I’m not sure that the buildings represent much on their own, it was the family that made this such a great place. Any condos that obscure the view of Our Lady of Lourdes even more would sure be a shame.

          When my brother and nephew visited awhile back, we went there for dinner and I’m going to have to make a pilgrimage over to Nordeast before it’s too late! 🙂

            • Oh, I see. Thanks! I don’t get out that way often, but Surdyck has a great wine sale twice a year and I used drive over and stop somewhere to eat and pick up a few bottles.

              I stopped when the kids got into their teenage years, but now that they’re gone…:) 🙂

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