Condensed Milk Pound Cake
Today, after work, after eating lunch in my car and then driving home, I found myself back in bed. Even though it was only three o’clock. For some reason that made me feel old – shouldn’t I be outside, doing something fun? So I compromised by sitting up and writing for the first time in a long time.
What’s new? Still missing the excitement of studying abroad, this semester I got busy. I took a British literature class tougher than leather. I juggled two jobs, maintaining a 50 hour work week. I declared an art history minor and surprised myself, mostly, by taking a solo trip to New Orleans. In April I celebrated my 20th birthday. Best of all, I landed an editorial/social media internship with America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, which I’ll be continuing in the fall (more on that later!)
What I didn’t do was bake. I blamed it on my lack of time, on the fact that my dorm’s mousy kitchen didn’t get any natural light and constantly smelled microwaved, and on the expense of ingredients. But truthfully, there at the midpoint of my college career, many things that seemed everlasting in high school had changed. I found myself drawn to new opportunities. Like finding an apartment – living in the freshman dorms was fun and kind of campy, but it was a drag this year, and moving on felt right.
I scoured Craigslist and contacted realtors, explaining our budget and requirements. We’re looking for three equally sized bedrooms, a big living room, and windows. We don’t mind commuting to campus, but proximity to the T is a must. Finally, because I couldn’t help myself, a nice kitchen.
A week later I fell in love with the third apartment we saw, and then nothing else could live up to its standard. A ground floor apartment, we were warned that its upstairs neighbors could be “rowdy” and that mice lived in the walls. The price didn’t include heat or utilities. The apartment looked more like a house than a complex, which I liked, but it was 40 minutes away on the B line, which was notorious for filling up and breaking down. As the last straw, it was a twelve minute walk from the subway stop, and that was enough for my friend S- to reject the place altogether.
“You realize how cold that’ll be in the winter?” she’d later say. “Plus, I don’t want to get mugged at night.”
I overlooked all of that because the apartment had charm. So many places we went on to consider were convenient, sure, and met our requirements on paper. But none of them felt as much like home as this one. I liked the character of the crown molding, the funky bamboo door to the bathroom, the stained glass detail at the top of the windows. But the kitchen sealed my fate.
I’d buried my interest in cooking for so long that I was surprised to care. But walking in and seeing the clean countertops, new-enough oven, and ample sunlight stopped me cold. While my friends snapped photos of the other rooms, I opened all the cabinets and stuck my head in the fridge. I saw myself setting out eggs and sifting spices. Making cupcakes for birthdays and cookies for the holidays. The kitchen was big enough for a lot of people to hang out, big enough for a fold up table in the corner (maybe I could sit there and blog?). Big enough to make me miss baking.
In my head, my future with baking hitched itself to my future with this kitchen, and I fought hard. I debated with my girlfriends the entire ride back, pleaded for a few more days, then finally, reluctantly, agreed to drop it.
We continued looking for another month. Then one of my friends bowed out due to financial reasons. April loomed and I panicked when the on-campus housing deadline approached. At the last minute I requested a single room in a six-person suite, locking in a junior year of dorm life. Disappointment steeped through me like bitter tea, hot and lingering. But then finals were around the corner, and then one by one my friends said goodbye, and when the semester ended I’d stopped thinking about a kitchen of my own.
Now I’m home for the summer. Away from Boston, I’m finally realizing how stressed out I was. Stressed out by work and the looming prospect of My Future. By my friends, and by my parents – my relationship with them is evolving faster than I can keep up. Somewhere along the way, responsibility and anxiety squeezed out the last of my creativity. I wish it hadn’t. But then this week, just as quietly as it snuck in, my writer’s block packed up and left. I’m walking on tiptoes, hoping it’s gone for good. It’s taken me a few days to write this post, but I want to be here.
After I started writing, I started brainstorming. I rummaged through our pantry and emptied out the fridge, possibilities unfolding. I was drawn to this recipe because I liked the idea of a simple dessert (what could be more classic than pound cake?) with a twist – the addition of sweetened condensed milk, a lot of it. The result is a moist, vanilla-studded cake, densely crumbed and uniquely sweetened. Adaptable enough to serve with macerated strawberries or a curl of ice cream, intriguing enough to eat plain.
It’s enough to pull me back into the kitchen again.
Three quarters of a cup of sweetened condensed milk? My first concern was that the pound cake would be too sugary, but the condensed milk made the loaf unbelievably moist and dense. The result was sweet enough that I didn’t need icing, but it wasn’t cloying. Three days later the cake was still soft and tender. We have a winner!
I added the cognac to balance the sweetness and it ended up lending an interesting flavor. It could be left out, but I’d recommend trying it.
Condensed Milk Pound Cake
Slightly adapted from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot
Makes an 8.5 x 4.5″ loaf
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more to grease the pan
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, chopped, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon cognac
3 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter an 8.5 x 4.5″ loaf pan and set aside.
Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the sugar and chopped vanilla bean until the bean is finely ground. Sift to remove the large bits of vanilla, then return the sugar to the processor. (If you’re opting for extract, simply put the sugar in the processor.)
Add the butter and salt and process until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bottom occasionally. Add the condensed milk and pulse until well incorporated, about 15 times, scraping down the sides of the bowl once. Add the sifted dry ingredients and pulse until no traces of flour remain, about 10 times. Add the eggs and pulse just until combined, about 5 times. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the vanilla extract, if using, and finish mixing by hand to fully incorporate the eggs.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until deep golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Cool completely in the loaf pan on a rack, then turn out onto a plate. Serve in thick slices.
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