How Whipping Siphons Work

Whipping siphons are useful for making so much more than whipped cream. We use ours all the time for making fresh soda, speeding up marinating, infusing fruit, or topping a dish with foam or flavor or textural contrast.

Whether you’re carbonating, infusing, or foaming, there are a few basics you should know.

The siphon requires cartridges of gas, also called “chargers,” to pressurize the chamber holding the liquid. Carbon dioxide is best used for carbonation only. We use nitrous oxide for foaming, marinating, and infusing.

Whipping siphons were designed for aerating creams high in fat. Nitrous oxide dissolves much better in fat than in water, so high-fat liquids generally foam better in a siphon than low-fat ones do. You can, however, foam any liquid thick enough to hold bubbles. Add starch, gelatin, eggs, or agar to thin liquids to give them enough body for foaming.

Each cartridge holds 8 g of gas, can be used only once, and costs about 50 cents. Two cartridges are typically sufficient to charge a 1 L siphon. Use about 2% gas, or 8 g of gas for every 400 g of liquid—more if the liquid is low in fat.

If the seal on your whipping siphon is faulty, the gas will go in and then immediately start to leak. So listen closely as you charge it. You should hear gas filling the chamber—and then silence. Still hear hissing? Remnants of a previous foam might be causing a leak, or some part of the siphon could be damaged. Vent the siphon, remove the nozzle, unscrew the top, and take out the cartridge. Then clean these parts and the rubber gaskets thoroughly, and check to make sure that they are undamaged and properly seated.

All of these parts work in conjunction. In the diagram below, we have detailed each part and its role. Whipping siphons have several uses, but we have selected foaming for the purpose of this diagram.

  1. The rubber gasket keeps the dissolved gas from escaping. Make sure it’s intact and fits snugly along the top of the lid.
  2. The “empty” part of the siphon is filled with gas, which pushes on the liquid and forces it through the valves.
  3. Charging the siphon—that is, installing the gas cartridge so that it is pierced by the pin—increases the pressure inside the canister dramatically and forces the nitrous oxide to dissolve into the liquid. Shaking the container is crucial to ensure that the gas is evenly distributed.
  4. Hold the siphon upside down to help the gas propel the liquid from the siphon.
  5. The nozzle directs the flow.
  6. A rapid drop in pressure as the liquid leaves the vale causes most of the dissolved gas to emerge from the solution, thereby creating bubbles that expand into foam.
  7. A precision valve meters the forceful flow of liquid from the siphon.
  8. A disposable cartridge holds 8 g of nitrous oxide. The number of cartridges needed depends on the volume of the siphon, how full the siphon is, the fat content of the liquid to be whipped, and the temperature of that liquid. Generally two cartrdiges are enough for a 1 L siphon.

—Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Three Desserts You Can Make with a Whipping Siphon

Whipping siphons are easy and fun to use. This Valentine’s Day, try wowing your special someone with a Modernist dessert created with nitrous oxide or carbon dioxide. Use our suggestions below for tasty ideas beyond the realm of whipped cream.

  1. Lemon Curd: Try using a whipping siphon instead of a pastry bag for piping your lemon curd. This will give it a foamy texture. Serve it atop raspberry sablé cookies or to make a pie using the flaky pie crust from Modernist Cuisine at Home.
  2. Microwaved Cake: This dessert is a cinch to make. You can use our recipe in Modernist Cuisine or Modernist Cuisine at Home or even just use a boxed mix. Dispense the batter from the siphon into a paper cup, microwave, and serve!
  3. Fizzy Fruit: We love using carbon dioxide to make fizzy grapes, but we’ve also used it to carbonate lychees and cranberries.

For most baking and savory applications, such as the Lemon Curd recipe, the Microwaved Cake recipe, and making whipped cream, you’ll need nitrous oxide (N2O) chargers. For carbonation applications, including the fizzy fruit technique, you’ll need carbon dioxide (CO2) chargers. Nitrous oxide dissolves into fats and is flavorless, as opposed to carbon dioxide, which dissolves in water and imparts a sharp flavor of carbonation. If you were to use CO2 instead of N2O when making whipped cream, for instance, the tangy carbonated flavor would fool your brain into thinking the cream had spoiled, which is not a pleasant sensation!

For more great dessert ideas, check out the Custards and Pies chapter of Modernist Cuisine at Home.

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How Pressure Cookers Work

Pressure cookers are fantastic tools. They develop the characteristic flavors and textures of foods so quickly that what is conventionally a long, labor-intensive process becomes one hardly more time-consuming than a casual sauté. Risotto takes six minutes instead of 25. An intense chicken stock takes only 90 minutes. You can even pressure-cook food in canning jars or in oven bags or FoodSaver bags rated for high temperatures–which means grits and polenta, for example, no longer require constant stirring to avoid sticking. The high temperatures inside the cooker also promote browning and caramelization, reactions that create flavors you can’t get otherwise in a moist cooking environment. If you aren’t a believer, try our Caramelized Carrot Soup recipe.

A pressure cooker is essentially just a pot with a semi-sealed lockable lid and a valve that controls the pressure inside. It works by capturing the steam that, as it builds up, increases the pressure in the vessel. The pressure increase in turn raises the boiling point of water, which normally limits the cooking temperature of wet foods to 100 °C / 212 °F (at sea level; the boiling point is slightly lower at higher elevations). Because the effective cooking temperature is higher in the pressure cooker — as high as 120 °C / 250 °F — the cooking time can drop substantially.

Take a look below at our cutaway photo from Modernist Cuisine at Home. The letters correspond to an explanation of each part of the pressure cooker.

    1. High-pressure steam rapidly transfers heat to the surface of any food not submerged in liquid.
    2. A spring-loaded valve is normally open so that air can escape. As heating begins, expanding vapor pushes this valve up, closing off the vent. (At very high pressures, it rises farther and reopens the vent to release excess steam.) The valve regulates the pressure inside the cooker to a preset level: typically 0.7 or 1 bar / 10 or 15 psi above atmospheric pressure; this value is called the gauge pressure. At these elevated pressures, water boils at 114 °C or 121 °C / 237 °F or 250 °F, respectively. As soon as the cooker reaches the correct cooking pressure, reduce the heat to avoid over-pressurizing it.
    3. The sealing ring, typically a rubber gasket, prevents steam and air from escaping as they expand. This causes the pressure in the vessel to build as the temperature rises. Any food particles stuck in the seal can cause it to leak steam, so check and clean the gasket regularly.
    4. The lid locks with a bayonet-style mechanism that pushes against the sides of the cooker. Frequent over-pressurization can damage this mechanism and render the cooker useless. Other designs use bolts that clamp around the outside.
    5. The handle locks as well, to prevent the lid from opening while the contents are under pressure.
    6. There is too much liquid in this cooker. Generally, you should fill the pot no more than two-thirds full.
    7. Water vaporizes into steam, increasing the pressure inside the cooker as it heats. Because the boiling point of water depends on pressure, it rises too, just enough to keep the water and steam temperature hovering around the boiling point for the higher pressure. The pressure continues to rise until it is stabilized by the valve.
    8. Add enough water to the pot, either around the food or under a container of food elevated above the bottom of the pot, to enable plenty of steam to form.

Ready to start cooking? Check out our library for our Carnitas, Caramelized Carrot Soup, Risotto, and Garlic Confit recipes.

–adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home