Meringue: The Next Frontier

So I am really blessed to have great friends from high school that I still love to hang out with. I think it surprises me some that I still talk/hang out with so many people from that time in my life, but then I realize that I loved every minute of high school and so it just makes sense to keep these people in my life. (Yes - I loved high school ... even if it was a straight-out-of-a-sitcom-Williamson-County-bubble experience. It was still fantastic.) Tonight I got to celebrate the birthday of my sweet friend Christine, who as we noted tonight has been my friend since 7th grade with the exception of 8th grade when we didn't talk at all, but wrote mean notes to each other and stuffed them in the other's locker. It was a not a high point in my life, I'll admit ... but did anybody really like middle school?

So Christine, who has been part of my journey since those awkward middle school years through the Xanga days of high school (yes, she was one of the privileged few who had access to my "private posts" ... we were so cool back then), turned 24 today, which means I have known her ALMOST HALF OF HER LIFE. Crazy. Crazy crazy.

And I made her a birthday cake! Of course. Chocolate stout, as requested. But I was feeling itchy for a change of icing because I make buttercream too much and it's SUPER HOT outside and buttercream + heat/humidity does not a happy cake make.

I've been wanting to make caramel again since the salted-caramel-ice-cream of a few weeks ago, which I didn't like very much but a few people did. So I decided to attempt a CARAMEL MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM.

I've been eyeing meringue icings for a while now, but something about the egg whites just freaked me out. But I had a whole bowl of egg whites in the fridge leftover from the buttermilk ice cream I made last week, and so I decided to go for it.

Martha Stewart graciously provided me with this guidance, and I crossed my fingers and got to work.

I really love making caramel ... it takes forever, you sweat buckets, and if you can escape without a melted-sugar-burn you are lucky, but I LOVE the results and watching the process. Observe:

Sugar + Water over high heat:

Then it starts to bubble:

(Note: this is a stir-consistently kind of thing. Like no stopping. It's a workout.)

Then it starts to harden back up into sugar blocks:

Then those sugar blocks start to turn a pretty amber color and melt ... and since your arm is FALLING OFF at this point, it is a very happy sight:

Finally, it's all a gorgeous melted mess and then you add cream, and it bubbles up like CRAZY and settles into the familiar caramel-y texture:

SOOO YUMMY. But one must resist the temptation to taste, because it will burn. Just ask Price. He has horror stories ... sugar burns are the worst.

In the meantime, we had to beat cold butter into fluff. Thankfully, Price has THE MOST INTENSE HAND MIXER EVER MADE. I mean, it's like a jackhammer. I've never ever used anything with this much horsepower. It hurts my arm to use it. ON LOW.

So I turned the job over to Price:

Melanie (to Price): Describe your experience with the hand mixer for the audience, please.

Price: I'm glad I missed my work out today ... oh wait, I didn't. I used the hand mixer.

You're welcome to borrow it if you don't believe it ... this isn't hyperbole. It's an experience.

So back to the meringue. Then I had to mess with the egg whites ... my mom told me LOTS of stories as a child about how eating raw cookie dough - even just one bite - could kill me. I'm slowly overcoming my fear of raw things, especially egg whites. They make things so fluffy and wonderful!

The egg whites are mixed with sugar and whisked over a pot of simmering water (aka, ghetto double boiler time!):

Then they are whisked to high, stiff peaks:

The fluffy butter is added in:

And then the caramel, which unfortunately seized up a bit too much (oh, the perils of homemade caramel!) and didn't infuse the way I had hoped. Oh well.

So I need to just say that I loved the texture of the finished frosting. I mean, I really loved it ... it was so silky and easy to spread, light and fluffy. Absolutely perfect for the summertime. The flavor was buttery, subtle, and paired really well with the chocolate cake. Such a win! (Except for the caramelized dishes that are waiting in the kitchen ... not a win at all.) It's not really a decorating icing, but it makes a really pretty swirled cake, which I topped with white chocolate chips:

And thus my first foray into meringue icings was a success. I feel like it's the next frontier, though, and I have lots and lots of exploring to do. I'd love a chocolate meringue ... the silky texture combined with sweet chocolate would make an amazing filling. I think I'll take these dreams and head to bed ...

Happy birthday, Christine!