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Slate's Culture Blog

Feb. 14 2016 9:04 AM

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Flourless Chocolate Torte but Were Afraid to Ask

This post originally appeared on Food52.

This flourless chocolate torte is a better and purer vehicle for chocolate than chocolate itself (scientifically speaking).

It’s made from just three ingredients: chocolate, butter, eggs. It takes less time to mix together than your average cookie, and it only bakes for 15 minutes.

So why did it at first seem scary, when in fact it took no more skill than the next chocolate cake? Why was I emailing the torte’s creator, Rose Levy Beranbaum, pictures of the cracked surface of my torte, only to slice into it later to find it was perfectly smooth and delicious inside?

Beranbaum’s recipes are famously precise, but, as I found out, it’s not because there’s only one way to get them right. It’s because she tests them until she finds the most proven path to making them the best that they can be.

Feb. 14 2016 9:04 AM

Your Track-by-Track Guide to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo

After three name changes and more than a year of teases, Kanye West premiered his first album since 2013’s Yeezus on Thursday. In an unprecedented event, West debuted the album, which he once teased as “the best album of all time,” in a sold-out event at Madison Square Garden. According to Def Jam, more than 20 million tried to stream the event, which also included the unveiling of West’s Yeezy Season 3 apparel line (not to mention appearances from everyone from Anna Wintour to Frank Ocean to the whole Kardashian clan to Naomi Campbell). But West still wasn’t out of surprises (or last-minute changes of mind) and on Friday morning he revealed a new tracklist that expanded the album from 11 tracks to 17. Then, on Saturday, he expanded it from 17 to 18. The album is finally streaming, exclusively on Tidal, now.

West has described the album, called The Life of Pablo, as “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing in it.” West has proven to be a fairly reliable critic of both his own work and the work of others, and this particular assessment is pretty accurate—at least when it comes to the album’s first half or so. But West’s mind has always been too far-roaming for him to stick to any one sound for the duration of an album (with the arguable exception of 808s), and the second half is generally much darker, while still maintaining some of the Biblical imagery. And West wasn’t kidding about the cursing, either: His sense of humor has always been one of his most underappreciated assets, and here he’s as irreverent as ever.

Feb. 12 2016 3:55 PM

The Week in Culture, “Get in Formation” Edition

There you were, going about your normal weekend business, when the heavens opened and a new Beyoncé song and video shined down. We now live in a world where this can happen at any moment. Slate greeted “Formation” as both a protest anthem and a total banger, parsed the song on the Culture Gabfest, noted Red Lobster’s good fortune to get a sales-boosting shoutout in it, and cheered on Bey’s performance at the Super Bowl—which immediately preceded the announcement of her new world tour. But Shantrelle Lewis tempered all the Beyoncé mania by asking if the singer is validating mainstream blackness or exploiting it in the name of herself.

Bey may have been at the top of this week’s pyramid formation, but Kanye West is propping it up with a big week of his own. On the eve of West’s new album, Forrest Wickman cataloged the collected “rants” of the artist’s Yeezus tour, Michael Lista took a look at Kanye as critic, and Aisha Harris examined his history of boasting about his work.

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In addition to being a recording artist, Kanye is also a fashion impresario, meaning he’s probably familiar with Zoolander, that great early-’00s Ben Stiller comedy whose sequel arrives in theaters this weekend. No need to buy a ticket, Kanye, because Zoolander 2’s not nearly as good as the original, David Ehrlich writes, though it does feature a top-notch Justin Bieber cameo. Still, the new movie’s release was a perfect occasion to revisit the first movie’s treatment of queerness, and, just for fun, to see what it would look like if it had been directed by Terrence Malick.

More links to fill out this week’s formation:

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Feb. 12 2016 3:13 PM

Michael Jackson’s Influence on Beyoncé’s “Formation,” Explained

In “Formation,” Beyoncé proudly shouts out her black Southern roots and calls up imagery of Hurricane Katrina and the Black Lives Matter movement. At the Super Bowl the day after it premiered, she took the overtly political imagery even further, with dancers in black berets as an homage to the Black Panthers who at one point even formed an X on the field, presumably a nod to Malcolm X. After almost 20 years of intense scrutiny by the public, of having her appearance, personal life, and “street cred” interrogated, she wanted to let everyone know that she’s not the apolitical, perfectly curated, tabula rasa we long assumed she was.

Perhaps she was taking a cue from one of her childhood idols, to whom she also paid sartorial tribute during her Super Bowl performance: Michael Jackson. In 1987, after almost 20 years of intense scrutiny by the public, of having his appearance, personal life, and “street cred” interrogated, Jackson made a similarly socially conscious statement to his fans.

That year, Jackson debuted the characteristically elaborate short film for “Bad,” in which he plays Daryl, a kid from the inner city who returns home after finishing his first semester at a fancy, all-white prep school. Daryl is stuck between two worlds, unsure of where he fits in—slightly uncomfortable among the rich white kids, but no longer willing to get into trouble with his wayward childhood friends (including Wesley Snipes, in his debut) from his impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood. They teasingly address him as “college,” and become upset with his newfound reluctance to participate in their schemes of mugging strangers, claiming he’s not “down” anymore and has gone “soft.” Daryl pushes back against this criticism, which leads us into the iconic West Side Story-esque musical centerpiece set in a Brooklyn subway station, in which he sings about how “bad” he is.

Feb. 12 2016 1:01 PM

Obama Delivered a Pretty Sultry Valentine’s Day Message to Michelle on Ellen

Taking a cue from First Lady Michelle Obama, President Obama finally made his first visit to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In an interview that will air today, Feb. 12, the President joined DeGeneres to discuss why Washington is so depressing, how he deals with the challenges of the office, and why he and Michelle no longer argue. (Answer: He’s decided she’s always right.)

Alas, there was no dancing, but there was music, and a fun appearance from a little girl whose presidential knowledge had earned her a spot on the couch next to a real-life president. She didn’t let the opportunity go to waste, answering questions and asking a few cute ones of her own.  

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But the highlight came after Ellen played the President a Valentine’s Day video message from the First Lady: “Roses are Red; Violets are Blue; You are the President; and I am your boo.” Having already perched himself Between Two Ferns, the President took his place between two conveniently-ready rose bouquets to present Michelle with a lovely response, backed by some nice mood music: “Somebody call the Situation Room, because things are about to get hot,” and “I Obama-care about you more than you even know.”  

Feb. 12 2016 12:35 PM

Director Jia Zhangke and Actress Zhao Tao Discuss the Haunting Mountains May Depart

Mountains May Depart, the latest film from celebrated filmmaker Jia Zhangke (The World, Still Life), is part intimate love story and part cultural critique of a changing nation. The sweeping drama takes place in three chapters set in 1999, 2013, and 2025, unraveling the complex relationship between three friends, Tao (Zhao Tao, Zhangke’s real-life wife), Zhang Jinsheng (Yi Zhang), and Liangzi (Jing Dong Liang), while capturing the evolution of China in an age of globalization.

Feb. 12 2016 10:48 AM

The Dowager Countess’ Finest Burns on Downton Abbey

As Americans enjoy the final episodes of Downton Abbey on PBS, it may prove especially difficult to depart with one character. What will we do without the dowager countess, Crowley family matriarch and side-eye royal? In particular, how will we do without her burns? As delivered by Maggie Smith, who won back-to-back Emmys for the role, the dowager’s insults represented the id of a fading English upper class. They were also some of the funniest on TV.

In tribute, Slate collected her finest one-line barbs, laid on family members, guests of the estate, and, sometimes, even on herself. Watch above for one last blast of dowager realness.  

Feb. 12 2016 10:41 AM

Kristen Wiig Did Her Best Peyton Manning Non-Impression on Fallon

Whether she’s rocking a blazer and deep V-neck T-shirt as Harry Styles, or toting around a toy dragon as Daenerys Targaryen, Kristen Wiig's non-impression impressions have been a highlight of her appearances on the Tonight Show. On Thursday, Wiig brought another star to the show: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

Per usual, Wiig sounds zero percent like the real Peyton Manning. (At one point, in fact, she appears to confuse him with Tim Tebow.) But I, for one, fully believe that Manning shops at Sears, listens to Maroon 5, and would call “greenish” his favorite color.

Feb. 12 2016 8:02 AM

Courtney Barnett on Her Inner Monologue, Going Mainstream, and Not Self-Identifying as a Millennial

There are writers who create a voice so complete and pleasing that it colonizes your brain, temporarily turning your internal monologue into an imitation of their style. Within three weeks of the release of singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett’s debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, I had a little Courtney Barnett homunculus in my head, free-associating wry observations in an Australian accent as I went about my day.

Barnett’s lyrics tend to meander pleasantly over quotidian subjects—staring at the ceiling from a hotel bed, choosing between organic vegetables and cheap ones—until they settle on a pin-sharp observation or confession attached to a stomping garage-rock hook. It’s a style that seems built for an audience of music bloggers and indie die-hards, but in 2015 Barnett broke out of that niche through the time-honored strategy of making an awesome record and touring like crazy behind it. Now the accolades are pouring in: spots on dozens of critics’ year-end lists; a strong second-place finish in the Village Voice’s Pazz + Jop poll; a nomination for a Grammy Award for best new artist, which she’ll probably lose to Meghan Trainor because hey, the Grammys. Slate talked to her over the phone, from her house in Melbourne.

Feb. 11 2016 4:46 PM

Running on Fumes: Slate Writers Discuss the Serial Season 1 Bonus Episodes

In this special episode of Slates Serial Spoiler Special, Gabe, Katy, and producer Sam Dingman discuss Serial’s recent series of mini-episodes covering the Baltimore retrial hearings for Adnan Syed. Katy’s largely negative review of those episodes appeared on Slate on Feb. 9.

As always with Slate’s Spoiler Specials, this is meant to be heard after you’ve caught up with the work under discussion. We’ll be discussing new episodes of Serial each week, and we hope you’ll join us. After you’ve listened, let us know what you think about this season of Serial by emailing serialspoilerspecial@gmail.com

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You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and find previous episodes in our archive. You’ll also find them—along with additional writing and commentary about the show—at www.slate.com/serial.

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