Science and Baking

When not teaching biochem, Shari Freyermuth is making scones

Shari Freyermuth, scientist and cookie maker.Shari Freyermuth, scientist and cookie maker.

It’s a special treat when Shari Freyermuth, associate teaching professor of Biochemistry and CAFNR assistant dean for academic programs, brings her homemade scones to the Dean’s office for a celebration or birthday.  Even people who don’t like scones, which in the hands of a lesser baker can be chalky and hard, rave about Freyermuth’s flaky and moist quick bread that originated in Scotland.

Baking is the hobby of Freyermuth, who earned her bachelor’s in Genetics from the University of Georgia and a PhD in Biochemistry and Genetics from Duke.  She mixes science with a little bit of her baking expertise and vice versa.

Shar2WEBA scone with craisins and white chocolate chips.

Freyermuth was born in Hackettstown, N.J. (home of M&M’s Mars), but grew up in Atlanta, which she considers home. Her parents and siblings still live in that area.  She and her husband, Wilson, came to MU in 1992.  Her first job here was as a postdoc for Joe Polacco in Biochemistry.

What got you interested in baking?

I never really cooked at home growing up. My mom didn’t like to cook and never baked. I don’t think I really started baking until graduate school. I lived with a fellow biochem grad student and she really liked to cook and bake so we did a lot of it together. I think that it was then that I realized how happy baking made me and how much I enjoyed sharing it.

What science knowledge do you employ in your baking?

I think the similarities between the lab and the kitchen is that you get to use creativity in both.  In the lab, you are often trying to use a protocol in a different way (with a different organism for example) and you have to figure what you can do to make it work. In the kitchen, I use recipes, but modify them so I’ll like the product more. For instance, I add chocolate to almost everything I bake.  Banana bread is much better with chocolate chips!

Homemade cookie in a centrifuge.Homemade cookie in a centrifuge.

What has been your greatest moment baking?

When my kids were little, I would go a bit overboard with their birthday cakes. I’ve made Barbie cakes and teapot cakes, a cake that looked like a drum.  But one of my happiest moments was making a train cake for my son’s third birthday. I was up most of the night cutting the cake into train cars and decorating them all.  When he came down in the morning, the train was stretched out along the table and the look of joy on his face was priceless!  The kids at daycare (and the teachers) really enjoyed eating it that afternoon, too.

What was your greatest baking disaster?

My greatest failure isn’t a recipe.  I’m kind of a control freak in my kitchen, so I’ve never taught my kids to bake.  I think that’s pretty sad – especially since I’m a teacher. I do a much better job with teaching in the lab.  But some day in the future when I have grandkids, I’m going to teach them to bake!

The best part of baking is that it makes me happy to do it and it makes others happy to eat it. I love bringing treats to people and making them happy!

How do you make those wonderful scones?

Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Scones  (Makes 16 scones)

Preheat oven to 400oF.


2 cups flour

¼ cup white sugar

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

½ cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks (or ½ cup white choc chips and ½ cup of craisins)

2/3-cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla


In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender.  The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Stir in the chocolate chunks.

In a small measuring cup whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla extract and then add to the flour mixture.  Stir just until the dough comes together (add more buttermilk if necessary).  Do not over mix the dough.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough gently four or five times and then pat the dough into a circle that is about 7 inches round and about 1 ½ inches thick.

Cut this circle into 8 wedges and then each wedge in half.  Place the scones on the baking sheet.  Make an egg wash of one well-beaten egg mixed with 1 tbsp milk and brush the tops of the scones with this mixture.  Sprinkle the tops of the scones with a little of the cinnamon sugar.

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven.

Make a glaze of confectioners sugar and water/milk/juice.  Drizzle on hot scones. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Egg mixture for brushing top of scones:

1 large egg

1 tbsp milk

Cinnamon sugar

Glaze for top of scones (optional):

1/4-cup confectioners sugar

milk/water/juice to correct consistency