Wandering through the aisles of a local Whole Foods last week, I happened upon a novel curiosity, the Organic Batter Blaster. Had I discovered this pancake batter dispenser (à la Reddi Wip) at a regular grocery store amid packages of gray bologna and preshredded mozzarella-type cheese, I probably would have moved fearfully onward without giving the thing a second look. But there it was, getting cozy with a rainbow of soy milks, a few aisles over from the organic burdock tea, and my intrigue was piqued.
I paused, walked on, doubled back, picked a can up and read the label, put it back, paused again, snuck a can into my cart, slipped it back on the shelf, and walked a few steps away, before finally doubling back and taking a can once and for all.
After I got it home and tucked it away in my fridge to await its debut at Sunday-morning breakfast, I did a little checking online. From treehugger.com to Serious Eats Talk, I found an endless stream of comments from incredulous revilers, and to an extent, I understand where everybody’s coming from—hence my hesitation at buying the Batter Blaster in the first place. I, too, tend to prefer homemade and whole, natural foods to packaged and heavily processed ones, and I’ll admit the garish mustard-and-ketchup graphics on the container (nevermind the unfortunate name itself) only served to heighten the Blaster’s aura of indecency. Besides, pancake batter is damn easy to make from scratch, so why invest in a product to make something easy any easier, especially if said product allows you no control over ingredients and uses a fair amount of packaging to boot?
That said, I’m not inherently opposed to all things processed or packaged, especially if they’re good eats, which I must admit to be the case with most mix-based pancakes I’ve sampled. The ones I was raised on, for instance, which were the fruit of a certain blue-lettered, yellow-boxed mix (which also gave rise to the tasty biscuits and shortcakes of my youth), were unfailingly fluffy, tender, and delicious. The same cannot be said of all the scratch pancakes I’ve tried over the years.
Plus, initial shock aside, the ingredients in the Blaster don’t seem to be more processed or frightening than any I’d put in homemade batter (they may even be better, considering that they’re mostly organic, and I rarely purchase organic dry goods), and the product’s steel canister may be recycled (as can the nozzle and cap, at least in some municipalities).
Mainly though, I was lured by the novelty of the thing. I needed to see how it performed, whether the foaming and aeration of the batter that occurred upon discharge would create incomparably light, fluffy results, and if it did, whether I could recreate those results with my cream whipper and a little tinkering (so far, I haven’t gotten to the latter, and at any rate, it’s for another post).
So, Sunday morning, spatula in hand, I went for it.
Test-Firing the Batter Blaster
As per the product’s instructions, I shook the can well before discharging the first pancake’s worth of batter into a lightly greased, preheated pan.
Once I accounted for the fact that the batter would run for an additional inch or so (maybe a little over a teaspoon) after I released pressure from the nozzle, the dispenser was tidy and easy to use.
I also noted with the first round that the fluffy batter tended to settle a bit and spread by about 25 percent. So, from then on, I aimed to pipe batter to a lesser diameter than I desired in the finished pancake, and this method served me well.
Using conventional indicators for flippage as my guide (this was my instinct, but it was also in line with the Batter Blaster website recommendations), I had some difficulty in making pancakes that were much to look at. For, when large bubbles began to rise and pop out of the slightly puffed batter and the surface began to look a bit dry, the pancake was invariably not set enough to flip or even check for flipping without some carnage. If I let the batter cook for a few seconds longer, the cakes might be ripe for the flipping (occasionally) or they might be a few shades shy of burnt (more often the case). As much as I tinkered with my heat, I never did quite find the sweet spot. Perhaps an electric skillet with a temperature setting (the website recommends 375°F) would work better than my touchy gas burner.
In general, owing to the uniquely delicate, aerated structure of the batter caused by the expansion of gases as they escape with the dispensed batter, the pancakes were more difficult to flip than those made from conventional batters, especially if they were more than, say, 3-inches in diameter. I did find, however, that piping the batter into simple mounds (as shown in the array) made for sturdier pancakes than piping it in flat, tight spirals (at right).
The finished pancakes were, despite visual imperfections, quite good—sweet, but not cloyingly so; lightly textured, but not spongy; and tender, but not so much so that they disintegrated under the weight of a good douse of butter and maple syrup. Despite the dramatic batter aeration that occurred upon discharge, they were, however, not remarkably lighter or fluffier than other well-made pancakes.
They also tended to get slightly tough after hanging out in a low-temp oven for a few minutes while I finished cooking, but then most pancakes do.
And, negligible as this may be to some, I had a sight fewer dishes and clean-up to do at the end—just two plates and sets of utensils, a spatula, a pan and a quick wipe-down of the counter and stovetop. Had I made batter from scratch, or even a box, I would have had all that, plus a mixing bowl, a whisk, a ladle and a few measuring cups and spoons, as well as the crusty, dried on drips of batter that I generally have to scrape and scour from the counter and stovetop after a bout of pancake making.
All told, I rather enjoyed my Sunday morning foray into batter blasting, and I got some respectable pancakes out of the deal too. I’ll admit, I’m not likely to adopt the Batter Blaster for my pancakes of choice, but that’s not because I see any shame, harm or defect in doing so. Mostly it’s because my taste for pancake ease and delight surpasses even that offered up by the Blaster, setting me squarely in a seat, every other Sunday or so, at a favorite neighborhood haunt before a plate of unimpeachable banana-walnut beauties – absolutely no clean-up required.