A whipping siphon sounds like a complicated tool, but in reality it's pretty simple: It's a canister that aerates various liquids. A small cartridge of gas called a charger pressurizes the interior of the canister, forcing some of the gas into the liquid inside. That changes the composition of the liquid, transforming it into a foam or even a sparkling beverage.
As a food writer, I'd pushed foam around my plate plenty of times, rolling my eyes as the chef described "the evanescence of kale." But I'd never considered using a siphon myself because I spend the better part of my life dropping full glasses of water, bumping into furniture and generally having trouble with three-dimensional objects (it's called "pulling a Megan" in my house).
Now was my time. And my first and second kitchen attempts proved that I was, in fact, a molecular-gastronomy prodigy.
I started out creating a hearty dinner of pickles. I sliced up half a cucumber and brought my vinegar-and-herb brine to a boil, as I would to make the traditional variety. But rather than plopping a dozen or so slivers in a jar and waiting, I plopped them straight into my siphon, turned it on its side for a few minutes, then let all the gas out of the tank. The quick expansion when you add gas to the siphon breaks up the cucumber's tissue, and when you release the gas, the brine rushes into those broken spaces. I opened it up and... pickles! Fresh and crunchy.
Next, like famed chef Ferrán Adria before me, I poured a carefully constructed peanut butter batter into the siphon, shook it like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, then microwaved the mixture in paper cups for 30 seconds. The resulting nut-buttery cake was the lightest sponge I'd ever tasted. I ate it in one bite as I gulped a whiskey sour with amaretto foam, made by yours truly, now a certified molecular-gastronomy mixologist.
This bolstered my confidence to tackle the Egg recipe.
Laiskonis served this dessert regularly when he was the executive pastry chef at three-Michelin-star restaurant Le Bernardin in the aughts, though only to VIPs. "Everyone's a VIP, but then you have the next level of VIP," he explained to me -- unnecessarily, I thought, as I was obviously in that tier. "In lieu of getting a dessert on the menu, Tim Zagat of the Zagat Guide would ask for two to three eggs on a plate."
Despite never being on the official menu at Le Bernardin, the Egg has become so famous that it has copycats all over the world, one of which, in the Philippines, pays mad respect by simply calling it the Laiskonis Egg. These days Laiskonis only brings it out for special occasions, like Valentine's Day at his new dessert café in New York City, Recolté.
The Eggby Michael Laiskonis
When Laiskonis made it for me, he skillfully plucked off the crown of a raw egg using a device called an egg topper, which looked like a hifalutin finger trap. He'd lent me the topper, so at home, I opened the egg flawlessly and poured its contents into a waiting bowl. Sure, I cracked a few eggs removing the inner membrane, the resulting shells looking like some snaggly toothed monster had nibbled off their tops. But I told myself it was an improvement over the standardized, smooth-lipped eggs of industrial domination: Mine were artisanal.
Similarly, I aced making the pot de crème, mildly scrambling the eggs with hot cream and milk and letting it set in the oven until the custard was alarmingly springy on top yet icy raw in the middle.
Amid this amateur baking hour, the easiest part was using the whipping siphon. After making the caramel-custard base, I poured it into an iSi whip canister the way Laiskonis showed me. The technique is basically the same whether you're making a cake or a foam.
The siphon looks like a thermos with the spout of a whipped-cream canister. You pour your batter into the metal canister, close it up, then insert a bullet-shaped "charger" full of nitrous oxide into a little red handle. As you screw the handle into the canister, you hear a whizz as the gas releases, pressurizing the contents. From there, you shake it not like a Polaroid picture, turn it upside down, and gently press the lever to release a stream of foam. My caramel-custard foam turned out thick and gorgeous, just like Laiskonis'.
But instead of celebrating these debatable successes, I realized I was being derivative, merely using someone else's recipes. Luckily, as often happens when I've created the Machu Picchu of dirty dishes, I had a brilliant idea. Why not combine all the siphon's uses into one delicious meal?