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August 4, 2009 at 12:47 PM

Batter Blaster can o’ cakes: Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it

Call me a snob, but there’s something about buying food expressed from a can that makes me shudder at the thought. Cheese in a can? Don’t get me started. Reddi Whip? Can’t go there, either. Blame that on the Thanksgiving one of my friends showed up with a pumpkin pie and a can of the so-called cream, proceeded to get drunk and — Reddi, Set, Go! — mainlined the stuff straight from the nozzle at the dinner table. (Way to teach your children well!) So you can imagine my initial reaction when I got an e-mail from the folks at Batter Blaster, promoting “the latest breakfast craze”: organic pancake and waffle batter in a can.

And you thought Jiffy Pop was fun!

Their pitch? They use USDA certified organic ingredients, the product “contains no ozone-depleting CFCs” and its packaging (plastic cap, steel canister) is completely recyclable (“good news for Mother Nature”). What’s more, in addition to being available at Albertson’s, Fred Meyer, QFC and Safeway — among other venues — it’s sold at fussy-food-shopper haunts like Metropolitan Markets and (drum roll, please) Whole Foods.

Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $4.99, though word has it they’ve been moving it at Freddies for $3.99. That’s a whole lot cheaper than buying the organic eggs, milk and flour you’ll need to make breakfast from scratch, according to Batter Blaster founder and CEO Sean O’Connor, who told me he grew up eating frozen pancake “pucks.”

Sure, I used to make fabulous scratch waffles — with yeast! — back when time was on my side and Mac and I used to laugh about our (as yet unborn) child never eating “L’eggo my Eggo” (the joke, of course, was on us). And I agree with Michael Pollan about the sorry state of cookery in America. That said, when it comes to packaged pancake mixes, my family is an “equal opportunity enjoyer.”

Mac’s preference, when he’s not eating buckwheat pancakes at the Original Pancake House? The organic emmer mix from local producer Bluebird Grain Farm. Nate’s a big fan of Heidi’s cottage cheese pancakes garnished with sour cream and cherry preserves, and who can blame him? Heidi supplies the mix, I supply the egg, cottage cheese and elbow-grease and the cakes taste much like my mother’s homemade blintzes (which were long ago dubbed “a Jew’s idea of pancakes” by my nun-stunned, pancake-lovin’ husband — who earned a potch in the tuchis from me for that undeniably accurate description).

Peek and ye shall find: enough pancake mix in my house to feed an army.

After giving Batter Blaster a blast, we were all duly impressed. Talk about convenience food! I have more trouble pulling the cap on a new quart of Darigold half-and-half and pouring the cream into my morning coffee than I had preparing the Quick Draw McGraw of pancakes.

No muss, no fuss — and no skill needed for this hot-skillet specially.

After my chat this morning with the man behind the can, I have no qualms about promoting his product, said to produce 28 four-inch pancakes per can, though Consumer Reports — which gives the product two thumbs up, suggests otherwise. For the record, they also clock its per-serving cost at 63-cents: less than I regularly pay for that other family favorite, a fresh toasted bagel.

Pretty as a picture — and light and fluffy, too!

O’Connor, a former San Francisco restaurant owner, was looking for an outlet for his creativity when he came up with the idea for pancakes in a can. “We were doing flavored whipped cream for desserts,” he said, when it dawned on him to employ a rechargeable whipped cream canister to spurt funnel-cake batter directly into a deep-fryer. “All of that was disastrous and dangerous — don’t do this at home,” he recalls. And after he sold the restaurant in 2005, the idea of batter-in-a-can re-emerged thanks to his wife, who adores pancakes. That’s when he found his can-do guy, Nate Steck.

Steck had a background in food manufacturing, said O’Connor. “He’d done meat-alternative products including the meatless meatballs and stuff you’d find at Trader Joe’s.” Steck told him, “We get pitched a hundred ideas, minimum, a year,” and was so impressed with the man and his can he said if they could sell it, he’d come on as his co-founding partner. “It took us almost three full years to make our first sale, in October, 2007, to the Costco stores in the L.A. region,” O’Connor said. Within a year they’d sold over 3 million cans. “Now we’re in about 14,000 stores coast to coast.”

Batter Blaster, manufactured in California and presently headquartered in Texas, has 15 employees. And though their success has been widely chronicled in the business press and elsewhere, O’Connor insists “we’re at an awareness level that’s very low.” As someone who’d never seen the product till a sample showed up on my doorstep, I’m a shining example that his point is well taken.

Having just made a speed-run to Albertson’s for more Batter Blaster, where it’s selling in the dairy-case today for $4.99, you can consider me a convert.

What does O’Connor have to say to make-it-from-scratchers and others swift to cop an attitude about his patent-pending pancake mix? “Don’t knock it till you try it. People who want to make their grandmother’s recipe, have at it. Make me one, too! We’re not trying to crush family tradition, we’re just trying to give you a different way to do it.”

So, tell me: When it comes to mixing pancakes, what’s cooking at your house? And what kind of quick-and-easy “convenience foods” might I find if I showed up there today for a look-see?

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