I suppose I can't really call it a disaster, but this certainly didn't go as expected and I'd love some help troubleshooting.
Over the weekend, I decided to experiment, for the first time, with a meringue buttercream. (I used the recipe from one of the Whimsical Bakehouse books.) I set the water and sugar to boil as directed and turned to my mixer to get the egg whites set to whip.
Problem one. In tiny little letters on the rim, the container of egg whites I'd purchased sent "not recommended for use in meringues!" At this point, I didn't have much choice, so I went ahead with it.
Of course, I couldn't get them to hold stiff peaks. Has anyone else had this problem? I had thought pasteurized egg whites were a valid option ...
Problem two. When the time went off for the sugar syrup, I discovered that the mixture was starting to get caramel-colored. I cooked it for the requisite period of time, so I think perhaps I used too high a temperature. Thoughts? (It was set medium-high.)
I used some leftover conventional buttercream to frost the cupcakes (for a charity I contribute to, so they weren't expecting anything in particular) and continued on with the Meringue Experiment. Wonder of wonders, aside from the pale caramel color (and a slight caramel taste), it actually turned out quite yummy, with a nice texture. I could be quite a convert if I could figure this out!
So perhaps the egg white situation didn't matter after all, but the color could certainly be an issue. Any advice appreciated!
I will tell you right now, cooking sugar is NOT a thing you can time. You either need a good candy thermometer or have to know how to check the sugar by feel (for soft-ball sugar, which is what an italian meringue or pate a bomb require, I use a bowl of ice water and my fingers).
As far as the whites go, I know some people use carton egg whites, but I don't like the results they give me compared to cracking and pooling my own, so I use fresh every time.
On a related note, the first time I made italian meringue buttercream in culinary school I cooked the sugar a wee bit too long and it started to carmelize. I was able to use some additional water to melt it and bring then cook it back up to soft ball stage. It was delicious and saved me a step of having to make ADDITIONAL caramel to flavor the buttercream lol.
the best way to judge the sugar temp is to use a cndy thermometer - it needs to be between 240 - 248 ( soft ball, I think).
I use fresh egg whites - have not been successful with the pasteurized.
I can't recall exactly b/c I haven't made IMBC in quite some time, but I think you are only supposed to cook the syrup until the sugar is dissolved. Just a suggestion for while you are starting out. You may want to try an SMBC. It turns out so much smoother than IMBC did for me. Its essentially the same just a different cooking process. You heat the egg whites with the sugar in it until they are heated but not cooked and then you beat them together. Either way, IMBC or SMBC, I don't think you will ever go back. They are both awesome!
Let's see, the buttercream I use for all of my cakes is a SMBC. It sounds like you must have been making an Italian meringue, because you were cooking the sugar separately. Once I got my SMBC recipe together I instantly loved it and have never looked back to try another, however, it still does require the eggwhites (lots and lots!) and one time to try to save time and all the wasted yolks, I decided to use the carton stuff. It didn't not work at all! It contains something that severely messes with the stiffening process. I have yet to find a carton that does work, so I just stick with the regular egg whites and it works just fine.
As far as the sugar syrup goes, I do know that it IS supposed to turn the lightest shade of amber, and that will be achieved when the temperature reaches right around 250 degrees (maybe just a couple degrees sooner). If it gets too brown that just means that it got cooked too long (it can happen really quickly). Your heat setting is correct, Med-high, but I think if you just use a good candy thermometer and keep a close eye on it when it gets up to the 200's you should be just fine, oh, and use the real egg white too and you will have a beautiful fluffy buttercream! Hope that helps with your experiment!
I've never tried using powdered egg whites, but I made SMBC recently and I've made it before with no issues. This time I made it using Eggland's Best eggs and I've no idea if that was the problem or not, but I couldn't get stiff peaks for the life of me, and I beat it for probably 1/2 an hour. It tasted ok, but I had to add another stick of butter to get it to thicken up and it was too buttery for my taste. I use a thermometer so I can't help you out on the caramel color. But I am glad it worked out for you. Here's a bump, if nothing else.
Thank you all for the advice. Next time, I'll try a thermometer ... and fresh eggs. (I'm queasy about the salmonella thing, but logically know it's pretty safe -- probably safer than eating peanut butter! )
Thank you again! I love CC!