baking-how-tos

Custom Gingerbread House Installation Fun

gingerbread-village-4-the-solvang-bakery

We love when we are presented with the opportunity to unleash all of our creative energies on a custom gingerbread installation. For this project, we were directed to create a gingerbread village down the center of a dining room table.

The village’s gingerbread castle would rest on a table in the adjoining living room.

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Susan and Armando collaborated to design something that would fit the period and have enough artistic variation to keep diners interested throughout their holiday dining. They were careful to keep the profile of the village low enough to not obstruct easy conversation across the table.

gingerbread-village-1-the-solvang-bakery-cottage-

gingerbread-village-8-the-solvang-bakery-armandogingerbread-village-5-the-solvang-bakery-susan-snowThis particular installation was located close enough that Susan and Armando were able to be physically present to put the finishing touches on the gingerbread cottages.

The other benefit of close proximity is that the various buildings need not be shipped…allowing for more delicate touches and gingerbread flourishes.

 

gingerbread-village-2-the-solvang-bakery-susan-straightening gingerbread-village-9-the-solvang-bakery-clock-tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gingerbread Origins, from Gingerbread Men to Gingerbread Houses to Gingerbread Recipes

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Ah, gingerbread.  The smell of it baking, the taste of a gingerbread man, or the sight of a gingerbread house, conjures the holidays.  Memories float forward, bumping out our to-do lists, allowing sweet visions of childhood to pervade our minds.  It’s not just a number on a calendar that tells us the holidays are upon us.  It’s the aromas, tastes, and visual feasts that make them real.

gingerbread-house,-gingerbread-cookie-jar,-solvang-bakeryAt The Solvang Bakery, the tantalizing redolence of baking almond butter rings elicits a hint of the holidays, but it’s the distinct scent of gingerbread that makes it definitive.  Gingerbread has been embedded in our culture for centuries.

Gingerbread gets its name from the rather unattractive root ‘ginger’, and its color from molasses.  The ginger root has long been associated with myriad health benefits and holistic medicine.  It ‘s thought to aid in digestion (soothing stomach aches), be an anti-inflammatory aid, help with menstrual cramps and morning sickness, fend off disease, and even relieve some of the nausea associated with motion sickness.  Some folks use it to relieve heartburn as well.

Gingerbread’s deep, rich color comes from molasses.  Made with a variety of spices, it can contain brown sugar, molasses, granulated sugar, honey, and/or light or dark corn syrup.  At The Solvang Bakery, we use two recipes, one for our gingerbread cookies, and a heartier recipe that’s ideal for building our sturdy gingerbread houses.  Maili, an executive chef, and sister and daughter of bakery owners Melissa and Susan, published the recipe for gingerbread cookies on her blog…just click here to view it.

So where did gingerbread originate?  There seems to be almost as many theories as there are gingerbread men.  We can be pretty confident that some form of it originated in the Middle East as that part of the world brought spices to the western world, but there are references that go as far back as the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.

Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558 – 1603) is credited with the invention of the gingerbread man.  She would delight visiting dignitaries with gingerbread men made in their own likenesses.  Contemporary to Queen Elizabeth I was none other than William Shakespeare who wrote in Love’s Labor’s Lost, “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.”

Gingerbread houses gained popularity after the Brothers Grimm published Hansel and Gretel in 1812.  The wicked witch’s house was made of gingerbread and was adorned with candy… a tantalizing treat to the hungry brother and sister.

Gingerbread is woven into the fiber of American history as well.  George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, developed a recipe for Gingerbread Cake in 1784.  That recipe was reprinted in the blog Syrup and Biscuits, which you can find by clicking here.  Gingerbread was Abraham Lincoln’s ‘biggest treat’ and he invoked a gingerbread anecdote in his Lincoln – Douglas debates.

gingerbread-men-and-women-tree-solvang-bakeryWith only a brief period of decreased popularity (‘witches’ used gingerbread men as voodoo dolls in the early 17th century), gingerbread has been a delicious part of our western culture for centuries.  At The Solvang Bakery, we’re proud to keep these traditions alive and evolving…from our ovens to your table.

Have any great gingerbread memories to share?  Please do!

 

Sources:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-18365/The-gingerbread-man-ages.html

http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/crossculturaldesserts/a/gingerhistory.htm

http://www.arthritistoday.org/nutrition-and-weight-loss/healthy-eating/good-food/ginger-benefits.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gingerbread

http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/10-health-benefits-of-ginger.html

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/food/2008/12/a-brief-history-of-gingerbread/

 

 

Halloween Fun: Haunted Gingerbread Houses, GingerDead Men, and More!

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Throughout the Santa Ynez Valley there’s a strong sense of harvest during the month of October. Our local apple orchards host hundreds of school children who pile out of their yellow busses to snag a juicy gem straight from the tree. Exhausted vintners can be spied around town, marked by their crimson stained hands and tired eyes. A drive along Alamo Pintado Road is accented by  flaming orange pumpkins set against rich green corn stalks. If you venture into town, you’ll be greeted by creative scarecrows guarding local shops. Solvang and Los Olivos feature a Scarecrow building contests and proprietors fiercely compete for the blue ribbon. It’s a glorious time to visit.  The days are warm, and nights are crisp and cool.

halloween-blog-post-2013-pumpkins

Halloween is the Santa Ynez Valley is likely strikingly similar to when you were a child. Little ghouls, Luke Skywalkers, princesses, and firefighters stream through neighborhoods squeaking out, “Trick-or-treat!”  Most of our neighborhoods are still small and friendly. Parents are often invited in for a quick respite…a respite that might include a quaff of one of our lovely local wines. Invariably, someone hosts a family Halloween party…and thank goodness…we’re able to get a bowl of chili into a costumed tummy before the onslaught of sugary goodies start pouring in.

Halloween decorating is always fun…boundless thematic options allow creativity to run wild…

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halloween-ghosts-175halloween-pumpkins-175We love to assemble our Halloween Haunted Gingerbread Houses.  They’re colorful and kooky; adorned with pumpkins and bug-eyed bats, and ghosts, and crooked windows. Our greatest challenge is to stop. It’s too much fun to keep playing with them!

halloween-cookie-decorating-kit-the-solvang-bakery-500Another fun family activity is decorating cookies with the kids.  We’ve put together a Halloween Cookie Decorating Kit that’s perfect for shipping to faraway grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or for school or at-home Halloween parties.

This year we found a fabulous little cookie cutter for making GingerDEAD Men. It’s cuts out a conventional gingerbread man shape, but the back side is for imprinting a skeleton onto the dough. Whip up some royal icing, and voila, a GingerDead man is born (…not sure a dead man is born…). We are selling and shipping these devilish little guys, but we’re also selling the cookie cutter for your own Do-It-Yourself (DIY) fun.  Find GingerDead Cookie Cutters here.

gingerdead-men-cookie-cutter-the-solvang-bakery-300Of course you can always just use your own traditional gingerbread man cookie cutter at home and create your own anatomy. Susan shows you how to do both in our video How to Decorate Halloween GingerDead Men – click here.

Oh, and here’s our recipe for gingerbread cookies in case you need one. Chef Maili (Melissa’s sister and Susan’s daughter, wrote this up…you can find the original post and lots of other great recipes and cooking tips here.) Remember, you’ll need to roll your dough a little extra thick if you’re using the GingerDead Cookie Cutter (it’s deep), and you’ll want to set the temperature a little lower so that you can cook them a little longer.

The Solvang Bakery Gingerbread Cookies Recipe

Use royal icing to decorate them. We have a simple video on how to make and use royal icing – click here.  You can buy powdered egg whites if you are concerned with using raw egg whites. Be aware that royal icing will harden when exposed to air so be sure to keep it in piping bags in plastic or in some kind of airtight container until you use it.

 
Unbleached Flour, 5 cups
Baking Soda, 1/2 teaspoon
Ground Ginger, 6 teaspoons
Ground Cinnamon, 4 teaspoons
Ground Cloves, 3/4 teaspoon, optional
Freshly Grated Nutmeg, 1 teaspoon, optional
Ground Allspice, 1 teaspoon
Salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons
Unsalted Butter, 2 sticks (1 cup)
Dark Brown Sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed (light brown sugar can be substituted)
Granulated Sugar, 1/2 cup
Unsulfured Molasses, 1 cup
Egg, 1
1. Have butter softened and at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a bowl combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy and pale yellow. (About five minutes at medium-high speed.) Add the dark brown and granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the molasses, beating until well combined. Add the egg and beat until well combined.
4. Add the flour and spice mixture about 1 cup at a time. Beat in each addition before you add more. Scrape down sides of bowl with spatula if necessary.
5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into four sections and mold them into thick disks (flatted ball of dough.) Wrap each disk of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to 3 days.
6. Roll cookies out with a rolling pin to desired thickness. Dip cookie cutter in flour and cut out the cookies. Use a spatula to transfer cookies to the baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake in a 350 oven for 8-10 minutes. (Check your oven. You may want to bake for 12 minutes but they truly taste better when not overbaked.) Transfer to cooling racks. Decorate after cookies have cooled.

BOO!

How to Use Fondant – Susan Shares Tips for Making a Simple Fondant Cake

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Photo by White Haute Photography

Have you ever wondered how people create such magnificent cakes? Some of them truly are works of art. At The Solvang Bakery, we’ve been blessed with several talented individuals who together have logged decades of experience creating innovative cakes. The secret of their architectural details is fondant.

fondant imageFondant comes from the French verb fondre, which means to melt. It is created by melting sugar in water. The solution starts out clear, then becomes an opaque white as crystallization begins to occur. Glucose or cream of tartar is added to aid in the crystallization process. Do we make our own fondant? Nope. It’s a tricky business to get the crystallization just right; if the crystals are too big, the fondant will not be pliable and will lose its shine and smoothness. Most bake shops purchase their rolled fondant from folks who make it all day long. We use commercial sources, but you will be able to find it in local hobby shops such as Michael’s or Hobby Lobby (or in their online stores).

simple-fondant-cake-500We’ve put together a ‘How to’ video featuring co-owner Susan Halme.  In it, Susan shows you how to cover a cake with fondant and add some simple decorative elements to it. She shares a number of tips along the way. We can promise that you’ll be making specialty and wedding cakes like those on this page in a week, but we do believe you’ll enjoy the journey.

 

Here are a few of Susan’s tips for covering a cake with fondant:

  • mad-hatter-cake-300Cover cake with buttercream icing, not whipped cream, prior to applying fondant
  • Make sure cake is refrigerated prior to applying fondant – you want it nice and cool
  • Use corn starch to keep fondant from sticking to table and rolling pin
  • Make sure you roll out any air bubbles in the fondant
  • Use your rolling pin to transfer the fondant to the cake
  • Pizza cutters make great trimming tools for fondant
  • And many more tip in the video…

This makes a great DIY project with the kids…plus there are always tasty scraps… Have fun and let us know how it turns out!

The Kringle – A Short History of the Danish Bakery Symbol

DANBROWN_InfernoHave you read Dan Brown’s latest book, Inferno? Famed symbologist Professor Robert Langdon (Da Vinci Code) is at it again, only this time the intrigue is centered in Florence, Italy and the topic is Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy.

What does this have to do with baking?  Not a lot.  Although it is difficult to imagine drinking in all of those fabulous aromas kringle-and-coffee-the-solvang-bakery-300wafting through the ancient portions of Florence without settling down for an espresso and perhaps a Florentine.

It’s the symbology and history that triggered our inspiration. If you’ve ever visited Solvang (or Denmark), you may have noticed a pretzel-shaped object hanging outside the doors of the many Danish bakeries that decorate our little town. It’s called a Kringle (pronounced kring-leh), and is the ancient symbol of the bakers’ guild in Denmark.

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oktoberfest_girls-044_0If the thought of pretzels causes you to scratch your head, not unlike Professor Langdon in his amnesia-infused haze, and wonder why visions of beer steins and buxom German frauleins come to mind rather than Danes, you’re not alone.  And even better, you’re not off-track.

Danish pastries were greatly influenced by none other than Germany’s cousins, the Austrians. The story goes that when the Confectioners, Bakers and Chocolate Makers Association of Denmark went on strike back in 1850, the Danes maintained a stiff Scandinavian lip and imported Viennese bakers to do the baking.  And with the Viennese, came Austria’s rich culinary history, which, in turn, was borrowed from previous cultures.

danish pastry 300Ancient Persians are thought to have been the first to create puff pastry.  The Turks took repetitive folding of the dough to new heights, which was eventually adopted by their mortal enemies, the Austrians, and later the French (think croissant). The striking Danish bakers eventually co-mingled with the Viennese bakers, borrowing the Austrian dough-making techniques, and adding sugar and jams to them … and Danish pastries were born. To this day, what Americans think of as ‘Danish pastries’ are called ‘wienerbrod’ in Denmark. Translation? ‘Viennese bread.’

Our Almond Kringles are created with Danish pastry dough layered with rich marzipan and custard filling. We wrap it into the traditional pretzel shape, sprinkle it with almond slivers, and coarse sugar, et voila: a yummy, flaky pastry perfect for family gatherings or celebrations.

Almond Kringle, The Solvang Bakery

Almond Kringle, The Solvang Bakery

But what about our pretzel symbol? It certainly appears it was borrowed from our Austrian mentors, but where did they come up with it? We think even Professor Langdon might find its provenance difficult to pin down. One of the favorite possibilities is that an Italian monk used doughy pretzels to reward well-behaved children for saying their prayers in the 6th century. The crossing portion of the pretzel represents the folded arms, while the three circles represent the Trinity.

Whatever its origin, we shall continue with the tradition of proudly displaying the Kringle above our door, and perhaps if you’re good (and maybe even if you’re naughty), you can one day sample our Almond Kringles!

 

References:

Arthur L. Meyer. Danish Cooking and Baking Traditions.  New York, NY: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2011. Pg 164

Patricia Bunning Stevens. Rare Bits:  Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1998. Pg 188-189

The Chefs of Le Cordon Bleu.  Patisserie & Baking Foundations, Classic Recipes.  Le Cordon Bleu International, 2012.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danish_pastry

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kringle

 

Gluten Intolerance – Why Now?

If you’re like us, you may be wondering why there is so much talk about gluten these days. After all, haven’t we been eating wheat, barley, and rye products for millennia? How did an entire population suddenly become gluten-intolerant seemingly overnight? We decided to do a little research to better understand this new trend.

Separating the wheat from the chaff

wheatFirst of all, it’s important to separate the groups of people who are eating gluten-free diets.  Celiac disease is a serious medical condition, and according to The Mayo Clinic, “People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.”1 A 2012 Mayo Clinic study suggests that nearly 1% of the U.S. population is afflicted with celiac disease, but that only about 20+% of them know they have it.  Conversely, nearly 1% of the population is on a gluten-free diet.  Why are they on a gluten-free diet?  There is a population of people who have what is rather opaquely defined as gluten-sensitivity.  These folks suffer from symptoms such as bloating, tiredness, and irregular bowel movements when not on a gluten-free diet, yet they do not have celiac disease.  Simply put, eating gluten-free makes them feel better.  Some of these folks have sought medical advice for their symptoms and some have not.  Anecdotally, we have friends who fall into the gluten-sensitive category, and eating a gluten-free diet has made a marked difference in their lives. The study also determined that there is indeed an increase in celiac disease since the 1950’s…it’s not just a case of it having been formerly under-diagnosed.

Why the increase in celiac disease?

Two theories are suggested for the increase in celiac disease.  The first is that people are eating more processed wheat products such as pastas and yes, baked goods.  These items tend to have higher gluten content.  The second may have to do with the cross-breeding of wheat that began in the 1950’s.  By creating hardier plants that can help us better feed the world population; we may have inadvertently modified the gluten making it more challenging for the human body to process.  It appears that more research is needed on this topic.2

So what foods contain gluten?

The protein gluten is found in “grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye).”3  So breads, beer, cakes, pies, cereals, cookies, crackers, pastas, and many other foods contain gluten.  As you might imagine, eliminating wheat for a baker is not a simple task.  That said, there are some yummy treats that do not contain these grains, and never have.

Gluten-free* baked goods at The Solvang Bakery

coconut-macaroons-300Two of our favorite treats are made with gluten-free recipes.  Our moist coconut macaroons contain no whole grains, and you can elect to eat them plain or dipped in rich chocolate.  Meringue is another non-grain based confection that makes for a delicious dessert.  Again, we can make them plain or dip them in chocolate.  Fill our meringue nests with fresh whipped cream and fresh berries or peaches for a refreshing gluten-free finish to your meal.  We are being asked more and more frequently to make gluten-free wedding cakes and specialty cakes.  For one recent wedding, the bride’s new mother-in-law had gluten-sensitivity, so she ordered her main wedding cake plus a miniature gluten-free version.

Yes, but how do gluten-free cakes taste?

Have you tasted a few gluten-free foods that you’d rather forget? We have; cardboard springs to mind. Rather than telling you that our gluten-free cakes are actually delicious, we’ll let a customer tell it to you straight. Here’s a quote from a Santa Barbara bride whose wedding was featured in Style Me Pretty.  Click here to check out the wedding.

Rebecca, Santa Barbara:

wedding-cake-gluten-free-lo-glare-300 solvang bakeryI am gluten free and Solvang Bakery took on the challenge to make me my dream wedding cake, gluten free, and no one would know the difference. Boy did they deliver. This was the best wedding cake I had every tasted, and most of our guests said the same thing. Solvang Bakery made up about 10 different gluten free cakes for us to taste and we settled on a chocolate ganache covered layered dream.
Not only was their cake amazing, they were so willing to help me, and so great to work with.

Click here for the link to this quote.

Whether you suffer from celiac disease, have been diagnosed as gluten-sensitive, or just find that eating a gluten-free diet makes you feel better, we can help you find a sweet solution to your dessert dilemmas. Give a call at (805) 688-4939 or email Melissa at Melissa@SolvangBakery.com and we can discuss options that fit your needs.  Until then, be well!

* – These products are made with ingredients that do not include gluten.  Our bakery does, however, produce other baked goods which contain gluten in our facility.

 

1 Mayo Clinic Staff, Celiac Disease, Definition, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/DS00319.

2 CBS News Staff, Gluten-free diet fad: Are celiac disease rates actually rising?, July 31, 2012,

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57483789-10391704/gluten-free-diet-fad-are-celiac-disease-rates-actually-rising/.

3 Mayo Clinic Staff, Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Gluten-free diet: What’s allowed, what’s not, . Dec 20, 2011, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gluten-free-diet/my01140.

 

Baking Product Review: Buddeez Flour and Sugar Storage Containers

Remember back in March when we asked on our Facebook Page if anybody had tried these?  We had thought that they might be really handy for the home kitchen, so we ordered a pair to see for ourselves.  Please note that for the most accurate measuring of flour, one should use a scale.  But like many busy moms, we typically use the quick scoop-and-scrape method for simple home baking.

We dove into making some simple chocolate chip cookies using the Buddeez Flour and Sugar Containers as our storage vessels. Here’s what we observed:

For Storing Flour: Thumbs Down

 

Why:

  • Baking Products Review - The Solvang Bakery - BuddeezYou can’t pour from the small spout without the flour clogging the opening.
  • If you use the large flip-top opening, the flour ‘pours’ in clots…making a mess when it rushes into your measuring cup.
  • The large flip-top opening is too small for a one-cup measuring cup to fit inside to scoop out a cup of flour.
  • The great seal on the container (overall we like that it’s a good seal) is too strong to open and close to scoop your flour every time you bake and the width of the container is also too narrow to scoop quickly and easily.
  • If you do manage to somehow pour the flour into your measuring cup, you still have to scrape off the excess…but into what?  The small and larger openings of the container are too small to easily scrape off the excess flour without making a mess (and therefore wasting some of the flour).  You could pull off the lid and scrape back into the container, but that means you have to first carefully set down your brimming cup of flour and then use both hands to remove the nicely sealed lid…adding another step to your baking and more time…

For Storing Sugar: Mostly Thumbs Up

 

Why:

  • The Solvang Bakery: Baking Product Review - Buddeez Sugar Container It easily handled a five pound bag of sugar.
  • The size of the container is just right for single-handed pouring (not too heavy).
  • Sugar poured smoothly and easily through both the small spout and the large flip-top opening.
  • Here’s the mostly part: after you’ve poured your sugar, you still have to scrape off the excess for accurate measuring.  As with the flour above, the small spout and larger flip-top openings of the container are too small to easily scrape off the excess sugar without making a mess (and therefore wasting some of the sugar).  That said, for many recipes, you’ll be using measuring cups that are smaller than one-cup, in which case this issue will not come in to play.
Overall: These are nicely sized, sturdy containers with strong seals, but we think they are probably better suited for things like big Costco cereal buys, than for home baking.  If you frequently take sugar in your coffee or tea, they would also be useful as a well-sealed sugar storage container with a pourable spout.
What do you use for storing your flour and sugar at home?

Origins of Seven Sisters Cake (Almond Butter Ring)

“Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades…?”

We’ve been baking our Almond Butter Ring pastry for over 30 years.  Three decades may seem like a long time, but the Danes have been making it for over three centuries!  The more traditional name for this gooey pastry is Seven Sisters Cake or Sosterkage.

Sandwiched between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, Denmark ‘s geographic location meant that the Danish people couldn’t help but be seafarers.   Danish Vikings roamed the northern seas and beyond.   With no modern gadgets like GPS devices available, steering by the stars was the only means of navigation available.

 

Pleiades or Seven Sisters. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So what does this have to do with our delicious Almond Butter Rings?  An open star cluster known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, lies in the Taurus constellation, and is particularly prominent during winter in the northern hemisphere.  In fact, it the month of November, it shines from sunset to sunrise.  Because it is one of the closest star clusters to Earth, is can easily be viewed with the naked eye.

Legend has it that the Seven Sisters’ Cake takes its name from the Pleiades.   According to Greek Mythology, the seven sisters were the companions of Artemis, goddess of hunting and the moon.  The hunter Orion (a nearby constellation) pursued the sisters.  Eventually through the predictable antics of the Olympians, both the sisters and Orion were placed in the night sky.  We like to imagine the Seven Sisters guiding Danish sailors of yore safely home.

Our Seven Sisters are safely nestled in a ring of six rolls circling one center roll (one of the seven stars disappeared during biblical times…a fact supported both historically and astronomically).  Made from pastry dough and layered with almond paste and custard filling, we top it off with a vanilla icing.  We like to think that any sailor returning from the northern seas in the last three centuries would be delighted to sit down to a slice of our Almond Butter Ring and a hot cup of coffee.

Sources:

Earthsky.org: Pleiades Star Cluster: Famous Seven Sisters, April 2, 2012, Bruce McClure

Danish Cooking and Baking Traditions, Arthur L. Meyer, 2011 Hippocrene Books, Inc. NY, NY, Page 175.

Pleiade.org: The Pleiades in Mythology, http://www.pleiade.org/pleiades_02.html

Bible, King James Version: Job 38:31: “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades…?”