Freshly Baked Science
The Science of a Perfect Gingerbread House
17th December 2018
Cooking and building the perfect gingerbread house isn’t an art, it’s a science… engineering to be precise. Producing a structurally sound miniature building out of food takes a lot of patience, creativity and skill. Read this article before you start building and we can almost guarantee you a perfect gingerbread house… you’re on your own for the decoration though!
The structure of a gingerbread house starts with the gingerbread itself, so creating the perfect dough is very important. The dough needs to be sturdy, but elastic. This allows the gingerbread strength with some degree of movement to prevent the house caving in on itself. The dough should be tough and bounce back a little when poked- it should also have less moisture than a normal biscuit dough.
Bread flour works really well as a plain flour alternative in a gingerbread house as it has a higher protein content so will give the dough more structure. The main aim when making the dough is to create a biscuit which is much stronger than normal gingerbread without compromising on flavour (and without breaking anyone’s teeth!).
Now we move onto the cement for your house. The ideal icing would be something that is easy to pipe or spread but hardens quickly. Your best bet here is to use egg whites, like in meringues, the egg whites denature when they are whisked and then coagulate, which creates a very stable protein structure. Another option to consider is melted chocolate… just be warned that you’ll have to hold the house pieces together until the chocolate starts to harden.
Buttercream would be a bad option. This is because the main form of moisture is butter which contains fat globules. This doesn’t provide structure like the egg whites do and wouldn’t dry into a strong ‘cement-like’ paste. Using buttercream would leave you with a very slippery mess… there is a reason you use butter to grease tins…
There’ll be 3 forces acting on your gingerbread house; gravity, the perpendicular force and friction from the icing. Taking these forces into account, the best way to avoid collapse in your house design is to have a wide house with the roof on a small incline. This will be much more stable than a narrow house with a roof on a large incline!
You’ll also want to consider the height of your house. While having a 5 story gingerbread house may sound impressive, the walls of the house are much more likely to collapse the taller they are. If you want to create a gingerbread skyscraper, you may need some reinforcement! Otherwise, it may be best to make it impressive using your decoration skills rather than unattainable height!
We hope you enjoy making your gingerbread houses. We’d love to see your outcomes, so send your pictures to our email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or social media (@wonkscience) with the hashtag #STEMintoChristmas!