This is a story about pancakes. It begins in one of my favorite places. Let me explain.
San Francisco is not the densest city by any means, but space is at a premium nonetheless. So when a single store occupies an entire city block — a large city block — that is a big store in San Francisco. The experience of shopping at the only Costco in San Francisco feels like half-privilege, half-pandemonium. Wheeling a ginormous cart around the street-width aisles of Costco, for me, is a guilty pleasure. There’s only so much paper towel and laundry detergent I really need, but I find any excuse to go. I would imagine that anyone who’d grown up behind the Iron Curtain might bask in the consumer abundance of Costco as a sort of earthly paradise.
In one of the refrigerated aisles, an entire case contained shelf upon shelf of bright golden-yellow spray cans. I thought nothing of the spray cans at first, assuming that the cans were just a brand of whipped cream I hadn’t seen before. But I did a double-take as I noticed something horrifying on the cans: the word batter. Costco, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? Batter — (pancake and waffle, that is, not cake) — in a spray can? Look, spray cheese is bad enough, but spray batter heralds the end of civilization.
Perhaps even more amazing was that the word organic also appeared on the can. I’ve been brainwashed by Whole Foods, I admit, but when I see the word organic, I automatically think healthy. (Or at least healthy-wannbe.) Was it possible for something healthy to be stored in spray can — which, by defnition, indicates processed food? Who could have predicted that I would stumble onto such a paradox in the refrigerated section of Costco? Organic and spray can seem like matter and antimatter: how can they simultaneously occupy the same space?
I went home with my jugs of dish soap and jumbo box of Spring Mix pre-washed salad greens and spent several days pondering the mysterious pancake batter in a can. Is this a viable business plan? Are enough consumers able to overcome the inital gross-out factor and purchase this product? Certainly there have been many times when I craved pancakes but had neither the ingredients nor the desire to engage in the time-consuming process of making them. And the yen for pancakes rarely justified a trip to a restaurant. So what to do? The solution to this conundrum may, in fact, be contained within the scary golden-yellow can.
Before I made any investment, I conducted some research on the cleverly named Batter Blaster. I watched the 1960-style demonstration video, which got me to sing the jingle repeatedly: Make a better breakfast faster: Batter Blaster!. (I can’t decide if the jingle is cute or annoying — or both — but it’s certainly memorable. Well done.) I read the canned — (sorry) — testimonials. I was prepared to experiment.
Costco offers a package of three 18-ounce cans for $9.99, which seemed like a good deal until I realized that I had nothing to compare it to. One can produces enough pancakes for a breakfast for two hungry adults or for three moderately hungry adults. In this era of escalating food prices, $3.33 for the bulk material of a breakfast for two doesn’t seem too bad.
Batter Blaster is remarkably easy to administer. Heating the frying pan to medium-low eliminates the common problem of the inedible "first pancake." (To avoid any burning at all, I recommend a quick spray of PAM between each pancake frying.) In fact, if you’re hungry for just a single pancake — and no more — you can fry a shot of Batter Blaster, rinse off the nozzle, and return the can to the refrigerator. (For this reason, and because of its ease of use, the product appeals to empty-nesters as well as to non-cooks.) Waffle lovers can also spray Batter Blaster onto a waffle iron.
In the frying pan, the batter bubbles surprisingly well for a mixture that doesn’t include fresh whipped egg whites; while they aren’t the most ethereal pancakes I’ve ever had, they definitely qualify as fluffy.
The most important question is, of course, how do Batter Blaster pancakes taste? The answer, in my opinion, is: solidly mediocre. Mediocre, however, is better than disgusting, which is what I’d initially expected from pancakes out of a spray can. The batter comprises a few simple ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, dried egg products, soy powder, leavening agents — and something I’m not sure I want to know about called "propellant." The bland taste is probably explained by what’s missing from the list: flavorings (like vanilla or almond extract) and spices. To be fair, I should mention that it’s the pancakes made from the plain batter, without any added ingredients, that are mediocre. Bisquick pancakes, or even pancakes made from scratch that contain no flavoring or spices, are also mediocre. The way to make them not mediocre is to add something to them.
For the purpose of livening up the batter, recipes are available at the Batter Blaster web site. Following the recipes, however, requires squirting the batter into a bowl and mixing in other ingredients. This defeats the whole point of Batter Blaster, which is ease of use and avoiding the whole mixing-batter-in-a-bowl procedure.
Here’s a tip I discovered after some trial-and-error: mix only the additive ingredients in a bowl and add a small amount of the mixture to the pancake while it’s frying. For instance, I mixed a cup of chopped pitted cherries with chopped walnuts and almonds, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. To each pancake, I scattered a spoonful of this mixture while the pancake was frying. The result was a plateful of uniquely flavorful pancakes. To skip any mixing process entirely, scatter a handful of rinsed-and-dried blueberries and/or sliced bananas into each frying pancake.
Hopefully in the future, if Batter Blaster is succesful, proprietor Sean O’Connor will add new lines of flavored batters, such as cinnamon-apple, spiced pumpkin, blueberry, lemon-ricotta, strawberry-banana, chocolate-peanut butter, savory herbs (for brunch or dinner crepes), and so on. (O’Connor has already tested strawberry and blueberry, as well as a sprayable brownie mix.)
I’ve been enjoying pancakes on weekend mornings, despite annoying myself with the catchy . . . better breakfast faster . . . jingle. I returned to Costco for another set of Batter Blaster cans. The refrigerator case was half full, which bodes well for the company — and for the future of easy pancake-making across America.