"You know Ladurée has opened down the street from the hotel." I was interested in everything that Mark McClusky, a writer for Wired, was telling me, as we sat in the luxury of the two-star Cheval Blanc restaurant in Basel. We were both tagging along with our respective publishing colleagues to the international watch fair Baselworld, and
enjoying the view of the sun setting over the Rhine outside the
two-story arched windows. Liveried waiters and sommeliers hovered
beside the white-naperied tables, waiting to bring us fantastically
expensive run-of-the-mill updated Continental food and way-marked-up
French wine, though I bravely went against the sommelier's
recommendation and ordered a Swiss red Cornalin. (It was fine, but the table breathed a collective sigh of relief when I ordered a Cahors as the
second bottle.) This stopped me.
It quickly became clear that McClusky, whose writing on Grant Achatz and
other technology-minded chefs I've admired, shared more than an
interest in food and colleagues we love working with. (When we emailed
greetings to Bob Cohn, grand master of TheAtlantic.com
and a former editor of McClusky's, he fired back one, very precise
word: "BOONDOGGLE!") We both love macarons, the buttercream-filled
almond-meringue sandwich cookies that have taken over the food world and that
grown men can admit to liking, even if a male fondness for cupcakes
dare not speak its name (I spoke it in this video).
Ladurée--the current Pierre Hermé-supervised macaron that is considered
the international gold standard--right in the heart of Sprungli luxemburgli-land! Luxemburgli are the Swiss version of macarons, and have a place in Swiss hearts almost as high as Sprungli's truffes du jour,
the fresh truffles that are considered the ne plus ultra of fresh
chocolate here, which the Swiss would of course define as the world's
best. Sprungli is the historic chocolate-maker, general city luxury
caterer, and macaron-baker that holds a place of pride in the city.
This called for a taste-off.
So this morning
we mounted an expedition to the new branch, which turns out to be one
of three in Switzerland; Ladurée is opening many stores
where rich people live, though so far none, sadly, in the U.S. McClusky
ordered a box of 15 to bring back to Oakland, and then chose the four
varieties we thought we could compare against Sprungli: pistachio,
caramel, and the two varieties of chocolate Ladurée offers, its plain
and Madagascar, which it says is 72 percent cocoa liquor, one of those
meaningless claims. Then we went to the largest of the many branches of
which this year is celebrating its 175th anniversary, and ordered the
closest equivalent. Sprungli has branches at the airport, and has its
macaron packaging down better to avoid crushing: plastic dome-shaped
covers protect Sprungli's macarons, which are smaller, rounder, and button-shaped in comparison with the flattened yo-yos that are Laduree's more substantial disks. Laduree sells beautiful and expensive gift boxes in various
decorative schemes, but the interiors don't feature the grooved plastic trays in which the macarons are displayed at its shops (and which the
central Paris HQ presumably uses for shipping macarons to its various branches).
So even if Ladurée macarons are much tougher than the fragile
luxemburgli, they're likelier to get jostled while traveling.
led me down Bahnhofstrasse, the main commercial street where all the
buildings are of course impeccably clean, to the lakefront, where we
opened the goods. First up, his choice, was pistachio. Sprungli's were
greasy and unpleasant. The filling tasted much more of almond
extract than pistachio, and had little flavor beyond the slimy texture
I generally loathe in buttercream. Laduree's tasted of real pistachios,
which also gave saving grit to the buttercream. Though I like the airy,
meringue-like puff of the Sprungli shell, which crumbles and disappears
when you bite into it, the much chewier, brownie-textured meringue of
the Ladurée shell made the pistachio macaron a much better cookie. "Not
a fair fight," McClusky remarked.
didn't do much better on the caramel: the filling was undercooked and
underflavored, whereas Ladurée's had the depth and chew of
butterscotch. But we did like the salt on the Sprungli shell. Both
bakeries even call their flavor "salted caramel" and offer nothing
else, salt with caramel having overtaken the world much like
the molten chocolate cake originally created, as a way to fix an senJean-Georges Vongerichten we'd had (uncredited, of course) at
the Cheval Blanc. "Sprungli's going down," McClusky said.
then came the chocolate, which should be the flagship for both
houses--and certainly should be for Sprungli. And here the tables turned.
Sprungli's chocolate ganache had a lovely, fruity acidity and a complex
flavor that grew and lingered--a really fine chocolate encased in a
light, cocoa-y shell that set it off without getting in the way of the lingering, changing aftertaste.
Ladurée's plain chocolate macaron tasted of almost nothing but salt:
every Lauduree macaron, in fact, left a noticeable, and sometimes
unpleasant, aftertaste of salt. Neither the shell nor the ganache had
any strength or distinction of flavor. The Madagascar was better, but only marginally: it did taste
of chocolate, but was completely unremarkable, and again too salty. These were disks of inferior
Swiss, saved by chocolate again! The strange of apparition of
Heidi--who appears in a lurid technicolor cartoon-like series of illuminated color stills in the airport train
as you round a corner, already disoriented, frame after frame of her
with blinding blond pigtails leaning against a mountain as the sounds of cowbells, mooing, and an a capella choir suddenly invade your ear; her
picture takes over your retina and, you hope, not your dreams--would
doubtless approve, and keep smiling her mysterious, satisfied smile.
Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America."
The comedian's n-bomb at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner highlights a generational shift in black culture.
Georgia McDowell was born the daughter of farmers and teachers in North Carolina in 1902. She was my great-grandmother, and she taught me to read, despite the dementia that clouded her mind and the dyslexia that interrupted mine. I loved Miss Georgia, though she kept as many hard lines in her home as she had in her classrooms. One of the hardest lines was common to many black households: The word “nigger” and all of its derivatives were strict taboos in person, on television, and on radio from any source, black or otherwise, so long as she lived and breathed. She’d kept the taboo through decades of teaching black students and raising black children. For most of my childhood, the taboo was absolute.
When Apple announced in 2013 that its next iPhone would include a fingerprint reader, it touted the feature as a leap forward in security. Many people don’t set up a passcode on their phones, Apple SVP Phil Schiller said at the keynote event where the Touch ID sensor was unveiled, but making security easier and faster might convince more users to protect their phones. (Of course, Apple wasn’t the first to stuff a fingerprint reader into a flagship smartphone, but the iPhone’s Touch ID took the feature mainstream.)
The system itself proved quite secure—scanned fingerprints are stored, encrypted, and processed locally rather than being sent to Apple for verification—but the widespread use of fingerprint data to unlock iPhones worried some experts. One of the biggest questions that hung over the transition was legal rather than technical: How might a fingerprint-secured iPhone be treated in a court of law?
The billionaire’s bid for the nomination was opposed by many insiders—but his success reveals the ascendance of other elements of the party coalition.
In The Party Decides, an influential book about how presidential nominees are selected, political scientists John Zaller, Hans Noel, David Karol, and Marty Cohen argue that despite reforms designed to wrest control of the process from insiders at smoke-filled nominating conventions, political parties still exert tremendous influence on who makes it to general elections. They do so partly through “invisible primaries,” the authors posited—think of how the Republican establishment coalesced around George W. Bush in 2000, long before any ballots were cast, presenting him as a fait accompli to voters who’d scarcely started to think about the election; or how insider Democrats elevated Hillary Clinton this election cycle.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
The Massachusetts Supreme Court will decide whether a local shrine should be tax-exempt—a decision that could have broad implications for faith organizations in America.
Property-tax battles are rarely sexy. But a case now in front of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, about whether the 21 religious brothers and sisters who run the Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette in Attleboro should have to pay taxes, could have huge repercussions. The Court’s decision will be an important part of the ongoing debate in America about who defines religious practice—believers or bureaucrats—and whether religion itself should be afforded a special place under the law.
The case centers on a colonial-era law in Massachusetts that exempts religious houses of worship and parsonages from property taxes if they are used for religious worship or instruction. The shrine has enjoyed this perk since its founding in 1953. But in recent years, the City of Attleboro, nestled between Providence and Boston, has faced a tightening budget. It began looking to see where it could collect more revenue. The shrine, the only major tourist attraction in town, was an obvious target for tax collectors.
For some, abandoning expensive urban centers would be a huge financial relief.
Neal Gabler has been a formative writer for me: His Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity was one of the books that led me to think about leaving scholarship behind and write nonfiction instead, and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was the first book I reviewed as a freelance writer. To me, he exemplifies the best mix of intensive archival research and narrative kick.
So reading his recent essay, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans," was a gut punch: First, I learned about a role model of mine whose talent, in my opinion, should preclude him from financial woes. And, then, I was socked by narcissistic outrage: I, too, struggle with money! I, too, am a failing middle-class American! I, too, am a writer of nonfiction who should be better compensated!
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Home,” the second episode of the sixth season.
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz will be discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners are being made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Malia Obama will attend Harvard, but she’s waiting until her dad’s out of office.
When the Obamas announced Sunday that their eldest daughter, Malia, will attend Harvard University, they also revealed that she will take part in what is becoming an increasingly popular tradition in the United States: the gap year.
“The President and Mrs. Obama announced today that their daughter Malia will attend Harvard University in the fall of 2017 as a member of the Class of 2021. Malia will take a gap year before beginning school,” the White House said in a statement.
After graduating from the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in June, Malia will take advantage of the year-long deferral where many students choose to travel, pursue special projects, or gain work experience. Harvard in particular encourages this practice, and as a result, between 80 and 110 of their students choose to do so each year. While it is unclear exactly what Malia will do during her gap year, the decision to wait until her father leaves office to begin her college education will also likely afford her a less-scrutinized freshman year.