Condensed Milk Pound Cake

July 24, 2012 at 8:36 pm 82 comments


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.

Printer-Friendly Version Condensed Milk Pound Cake

Entry filed under: Cake/Cupcakes. Tags: , , , , , .

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82 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jlcommeree  |  July 24, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    So nice to see you blogging again (I was wondering where you were) – and congratulations on the fabulous internship!! – John (from KING)

  • 2. Polly  |  July 24, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Glad you’re back, and writing and baking again. Single rooms in a suite in a dorm are a little different – hope it works. Your internship sounds like a great opportunity.

  • 3. C  |  July 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I was just wishing that you’d blog again and on a whim searched your site. So glad to see another post, and beautifully written as usual!

  • 4. Christy  |  July 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    i just adore reading about the new adventures in your life, quite different, yet similar to myself. So excited to see a new post :)

  • 5. D Christian Harrison  |  July 24, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Welcome back!

  • 6. Jason  |  July 24, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Elissa, I am sure you have heard this before, but I simply love your posts because of the stories you tell. The descriptions are amazing, truly short stories, with a surprise twist of a great recipe to follow. Glad to hear you are doing good and hoping to read more of your everso inspiring tales. Take care.

  • 7. Kaelsma  |  July 24, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Welcome back Sweetie! I’ve missed you!

  • 8. Tara (@smellslikehome)  |  July 24, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    I’m so excited that you’re back! And a big congrats on your insanely awesome internship in the fall!! I certainly remember the stress and anxiety that everything surrounding my college years involved (I used to dream of tornadoes during those years – true story) but it will get better. “Growing up” is not an easy process and adulthood isn’t always peaches and cream, but it’s soooo much less anxiety-provoking than my early 20s was! Don’t give up the things you love to do – they will help to keep you sane! :)

  • 9. nags  |  July 24, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    i hardly read long posts on food blogs but you are an exception. such a delight, both your post and the cake

  • 10. Barney  |  July 24, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    I added too much cognac to my cake and, as a result, I think I got drunk. I don’t remember too much of the evening, but I woke up in a chicken coop with a stolen gargoyle from my neighbor’s lawn.

    • 11. Iyonna  |  July 30, 2012 at 4:01 pm


  • 12. RC  |  July 24, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    SO glad you are back. I hope your Junior year (how is that possible?!?) is amazing and that you keep writing.

  • 13. Jessica  |  July 24, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    What an amazing post!! Your writing is so eloquent and just makes me want to go write my own post and bake in the kitchen. I have truly missed your blog as I look forward to each picture, recipe, and wonderful story.

  • 14. thelifeshemade  |  July 25, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Welcome back indeed!

    I was wondering, what if I got rid of all the sugar in this recipe and just used the condensed milk. Do you think it would still work?

  • 15. Chillihaute  |  July 25, 2012 at 4:14 am

    WELCOME BACK! You’ve been missed:)

  • 16. Jordan  |  July 25, 2012 at 7:28 am

    So good to see you back!

  • 17. playingwithflour  |  July 25, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Welcome back!

  • 18. Jessica  |  July 25, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Please enjoy every minute of this time in your life, even the times that seem unenjoyable- and, believe me, the relationship with your parents will continue to evolve for years to come. Welcome back, and wecome to emerging adulthood. It is not all bitter tea. Writing like yours eases the way.

  • 19. Kathleen Niemer  |  July 25, 2012 at 8:48 am

    So glad to see you back and baking… your pound cake looks delicious… as usual your pictures make me want to lick my monitor!

  • 20. Amalia  |  July 25, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Welcome back! You have been missed….your posts are always a good read!

  • 21. Harvard Common Press  |  July 25, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Hey Elis!

    Awesome to hear you are baking again! Your pictures and your posts are beautiful, as always! I’m living off the B line, way at the end, and my kitchen is at your disposal whenever you need to scratch the baking itch. Can you say midnight Werewolves?!

    Hope the rest of your summer is great, see you in the Fall!


  • 22. Anh  |  July 25, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    I was elated to see your post pop up in my news feed. As a fellow Bostonian, I can empathize with your search for an apartment. By my senior year of college, the task of finding another apartment was so daunting. I was steadfast in what I wanted in an apartment: recently renovated kitchen and bathroom, along with a laundry list of other things. It took a few months but I finally found something and I look back on that apartment now missing the hardwood floors and open loft for entertaining. There’s always next year for an apartment. In the meantime, you can enjoy dorm life with having friends close by and people you may not hang out with a regular basis.

    Your internship sounds amazing! I love watching America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. Hopefully you’ll find time to relax between your internship, 50 hour work week, and school. Best of luck!


  • 23. Dig Into Books (@DigIntoBooks1)  |  July 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Yay! So glad you’re back…your writing is gorgeous, as are your photographs! I’m in college too and I found myself in an opposite situation last semester – I experienced major health issues so I had to withdraw from classes and all I could do was blog (I was frozen with stress about most other things). I love that you’re doing what comes naturally to you and not forcing anything! And, congratulations (like major congratulations) on your internships! Sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime and they’ll be lucky to have someone as talented as you!

  • 24. Liz Marsden  |  July 25, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    hey, I’m glad you’re blogging again, always nice to see something from ’17 and Baking’ in my inbox. I actually have a non-cooking related question, I’m from the UK and here you’re locked into certain modules for your degree, but you seem to be able to take classes in anything – how does that work? can you literally chop and change anything you want? We have to make a decision on arrival what we’re studying, and if you want to change your major more than 1 term in, you have to start all over again (unless the two subjects are really similar). No worries if you’re too busy to answer random questions, I’m just glad you’re posting again :)

  • 25. annakristina28  |  July 25, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    12 minutes away from the T isn’t so bad (that’s about as far away as my husband and I are from both a C and D line stop), but I don’t know if I could spend a year on the B line! Finding housing in Boston can be such a challenge, but I’m guessing you’ve met enough people that you can find a sunny kitchen when the baking mood strikes! Welcome back – I look forward to seeing you in my reader again!

  • 26. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  July 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    So glad to see you back and blogging! I’ve missed your writing for sure, and am glad you came back with something simple and delicious! Also, happy to hear you found a place with a good kitchen! SO important.

  • 27. Christyna @ Baker With a Cause  |  July 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    So happy to see a post from you again. I completely understand how college life can consume all of your time, but hopefully we’ll be seeing more of you on the blogosphere once you settle in to your new apartment.

    • 28. Christyna @ Baker With a Cause  |  July 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm

      Unfortunately, I skimmed and assumed you had gotten an apartment :( So, it’s dorm life again for the junior year? Ah, well, at least there might be an opportunity to play around in the test kitchen’s of Cook’s Illustrated, right? Congrats on an amazing opportunity by the way. That is super awesome.

  • 29. mollybarrans (@mollybarrans)  |  July 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    welcome back!! you were missed. :)

  • 30. Tina @ bitemeshowme  |  July 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Welcome back, I’ve definitely missed your blogging! Things are done very differently here in Australia. It’s not normal to move out whilst attending college. The standard of living here is quite expensive and so we all just stay at home, living off our parents. Quite sad really. It is great news you found that spark for baking again. Sounds like you were just too strapped for time. Welcome back xx

  • 31. Danielle  |  July 25, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Lovely, as always. Condensed milk is my Achilles heel. Sounds and looks heavenly.

  • 32. Tania  |  July 25, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    So glad to have you back. Miss you, Elissa!

  • 33. Christina  |  July 25, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    So glad you’re back :) I literally just checked out Baking Illustrated from the library, which is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated! Congratulations on the internship!

  • 34. bell  |  July 26, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Delighted you’re writer’s block has left and you’ve returned here, where I’ve been patiently waiting. Congratulations on your recent internships and achievements – amazing! Don’t worry about sleeping a little during the day, particularly as you’ve had a stressful time lately. Maybe you just need to rest… I AM glad you decided to blog instead though! Have a fantastic Summer and I hope to hear from you in the near future again!


  • 35. Ellen @ Indigo Scones  |  July 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Oh Elissa! Sorry you didn’t get your apartment, but thanks for getting back on here and updating all of us! I’ve missed your posts and witty wording. I hope you find a place of your own soon!

  • 36. mei  |  July 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    i’m so glad you’re back! and i can’t wait to hear about your internship!

  • 37. Alisen  |  July 27, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Yes! Finally! I love your blog tons! I am going through similar things as you seeing that I will be going into my junior year as well this fall. I have visited your blog so many times anticipating a new post. Pound cake sounds good, but it can’t beat Granny’s.

  • 38. cluttercafe  |  July 27, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    It’s nice to see you back to your blog. Congratulations on your internships. What a wonderful opportunity. Cook’s Illustrated is a favorite of mine. It’s nice to find a Boston blogger, to have familar references. I’m glad you found your creativity. I look forward to keeping up with you.

  • 39. Jessica  |  July 28, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    I’m so excited that you’re back! When I discovered your blog about a year ago, I spent a few hours just reading back through your posts, savouring your photos, descriptions, sense of humour, and your obvious passion for creating delicious works of art. You always make me want to go make something myself.

  • 40. kenz  |  July 29, 2012 at 5:08 am

    so happy you’re back! missed your posts very much :)

  • 41. Mackenzie  |  July 29, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Yay!! You’re back!! Missed you!!!

  • 42. kuyasnotebook  |  July 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Welcome back! I found you during your absence and I’m so happy to see you back again!

  • 43. Kicked Bitten and Scratched Blog  |  July 29, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    I was beyond excited to see a new post from you- you’re writing is wonderful, and I’m always so excited to see what recipe you’ve come up with next. I just bought a pound cake at the farmers market this morning, however when we’ve finished it I will be trying this recipe for sure.
    Oh, and I made your red velvet cheesecake- I brought it to my aunt and uncles for fathers day dinner with our extended family. Not only was there none left, but it has been dubbed “my dessert” to bring to family functions. I think that shows we loved it, don’t you think? :-)

  • 44. Gloria  |  July 30, 2012 at 7:24 am

    So happy to see this in my email!! You have been missed big time!! Good luck with your internship there is no doubt that your talents will take you many amazing places!!

  • 45. Iyonna  |  July 30, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Well, I know it has been said but I shall say it once more. Si glad to see a stor~ipe from you Sweetpea. You have been missed :-)

  • 46. Ian  |  July 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Absolutely SOOOO happy you are back. I think you inspired another person who loves the joy of baking to start a blog of their own! mind checking it out when it is up?

  • 47. Ian  |  July 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    It is at if anyone wants to support a fledgling blog.

  • 48. denise  |  July 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    really glad you’re back!:) good luck on your internships!

  • 49. melissa schott  |  July 30, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    at least once a week (for about two year now) I’ve been reading your blog (and not just for the delicious recipes) but for the beauty of your journey. I have related to much of this blog and once you stopped showing up I lost hope in my own creativity. Stress and anxiety took over my life for my first year of college and I stopped caring about cooking, writing, photography and just about everything as well. I completely understand what you went through. I guess what I’m trying to say is I am very happy to see you back!

  • 50. Jennifer Ellen  |  July 31, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Welcome back! The internship sounds yummy!!!

  • 51. Melissa Daams  |  July 31, 2012 at 2:38 pm


  • 52. Daisi  |  July 31, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    great post. thank for sharing.


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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