Meringue cracking does not have to spoil your confections. To avoid egg white meringue cracking, begin by selecting eggs carefully and following a few simple techniques to prepare your meringue for success. There are many different styles of meringue. Soft meringues are used as pie topping. Italian meringue can be used as cake topping, and hard meringue is used for pie or tart shells or piped confections.
Egg quality impacts the outcome of meringue. For successful meringues that are fluffy, keep their shape and do not crack use fresh eggs — preferably three to four days old. Whipped fresh egg whites keep their volume when sugar is added. Older eggs yield a weak meringue that breaks down and does not keep its shape, resulting in shrinkage or cracking upon use.
Meringue is made from egg whites and sugar. Superfine sugar is recommended for smooth, stiff meringues because it dissolves completely and more quickly. Undissolved sugar crystals in the meringue causes it to weep and compromises the integrity of the meringue, causing stiff meringues to crack.
Meringue keeps its shape more easily when a small amount of vinegar or cream of tartar is added to the sugar and egg white mixture.
Mixing and Whipping
Whip egg whites with a wire whisk or an electric mixer. When using an electric mixer, begin on a low speed and gradually increase the speed to high. To increase the volume and shape integrity of meringue, add cream of tartar or vinegar, according to recipe, at the beginning of the whipping process. When the egg whites are frothy and foamy, gradually add sugar and continue to beat. Adding sugar before egg whites are whipped increases the whipping time needed to produce a fluffy meringue that keeps its shape.
Bake properly as the final step in preventing meringues from cracking. Bake meringues at a low temperature no higher than 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 minutes. Piped meringues are baked at 250 degrees F for approximately one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Do not open the oven door during the first half of the baking period to prevent the meringue from cracking. Check meringues to test for doneness. When the meringues are nearly done, turn off the oven and allow the oven to cool before removing the meringues. Cooling slowly in this manner further prevents the likelihood of the meringues cracking.
References and ResourcesDomino Sugar: Meringues
Fun and Food Cafe: Meringue Recipe - Tips and Techniques
Recipe Gold Mine: Kitchen Hints and Tips - Baking
Egg Farmers Ontario: Meringue
Rose Acre Farms: Egg Dating
What's Cooking America: Egg White Meringue - Meringue Recipe