Don’t waste your money on Baileys. Homemade Irish cream is easy to make. Add a splash of this delicious liqueur to create sweetened cocktails or provide a hint of booze to desserts.
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Adding Irish cream to some drinks or desserts can instantly elevate their taste. The simple mixture consists of barrel-aged whiskey, flavorful dairy products, and sweeteners. Once you master the recipe, you’ll love drinking this over ice or using it to make Irish coffee.
Working with fresh cream can be a little tricky. To prevent clumping, you need to incorporate the ingredients together correctly. I’ll show you my technique for success and ways to customize the concoction. Bottle it up. This decadent liqueur makes for a lovely gift.
What is Irish cream?
Irish cream liqueur is made with heavy cream, whiskey and mixed with flavors like cocoa and vanilla to add depth and complement the aged alcohol. Coffee is a popular add-in for those who enjoy an espresso taste. Irish cream is a low alcohol product, around 13 to 17%, depending on the brand and variety.
It’s a lovely dessert cocktail as-is poured over ice or mixed to create other specialty adult drinks. You can also serve it hot, the most famous being Irish coffee or something sweeter like hot chocolate. Other applications include cakes, cookies, brownies, cheesecake, or frozen desserts like homemade ice cream.
I use heavy cream (or heavy whipping cream) to provide thickness and body to the liqueur. These dairy products contain at least 36% milkfat [Source]. The higher percentage of fat and the lower amount of casein protein helps keep the drink emulsified while preventing the proteins from coagulating or clumping together when mixed with alcohol.
However, there is a limit because spirits that are too high in alcohol by volume (ABV) could cause curdling. The proof of the whisky and ratio added to the cream is essential. I do not recommend using dairy products like milk or half-and-half with lower fat amounts. They have higher amounts of protein which would increase the chance of clumping.
Irish whiskey, preferably Jameson, adds an authentic flavor. It has a slightly sweet aroma, with a subtle oaky, spicy, vanilla, nutty taste, and a smooth finish because it’s triple distilled. It has a 40% ABV (80 proof), but it won’t cause the cream to curdle when diluted properly. You can use other spirits to customize the flavor. However, don’t go above 40% alcohol.
The flavor ingredients used in the original Baileys recipe are vanilla and cocoa extract, plus some caramel for color. In my recipe, I use chocolate syrup. The cocoa is already dissolved in a sugar syrup, making it easier to blend. Pure vanilla extract helps to marry the sweet and boozy flavors together.
Switch up the recipe
- Coffee: Add instant coffee (a medium strength like Colombian works well) or instant espresso for a more robust flavor. Start with 1 to 2 teaspoons.
- Mocha: Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of instant coffee and 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup.
- Caramel: Add homemade caramel sauce, or caramel syrup, start with 2 to 3 teaspoons.
- Almond: Use almond extract, start with ¼ teaspoon.
- Mint: Add some peppermint extract, start with ¼ teaspoon.
- Pumpkin Spice: Start with ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix and 1 to 2 tablespoons pumpkin puree.
Sweeten the liqueur
I use sweetened condensed milk to add a syrupy to thicken the consistency. This product is heat-treated to remove most of its moisture, then goes through the retort canning process between 230 to 275ºF. During this time, the added sucrose lightly caramelizes, which occurs around 230ºF.
This product adds a hint of caramel flavor to the liqueur. Other alternatives are pure maple syrup (my top choice) or honey. You can use granulated sugar or brown sugar, but it would need to be thoroughly dissolved and may need more cream if too thick. Add about 1 ⅓ cup sugar, and adjust to taste.
Properly mixing the ingredients
You can make Irish cream liqueur in a blender, stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or combine it by hand in a large bowl. The goal is to gently incorporate the ingredients without actually aerating the cream. If using the blender or mixer, use the lowest speed settings and process until just combined.
The sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, chocolate syrup, and vanilla mix first to disperse the thick dairy product into the solution. The trick to preventing curdling is gradually adding Irish whiskey at the end of mixing. This dilutes the more acidic spirit into the mixture to minimize the cream’s casein proteins’ clumping.
Store in an airtight bottle or jar for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. I use these 16-ounce glass flip-top bottles. They even come with labels and a funnel for easier transfer. Mason jars work well too. Typically, cream is a perishable item and only lasts for up to 10 days after opening.
However, the ethanol and high sugar concentration act as preservatives and reduce microbial activity while extending the shelf life. Sterilizing glass containers for storage also helps to kill spoilage organisms. Bottling Irish cream makes for a festive St. Patrick’s Day or Christmas gift.
Ways to use it
- Make an Irish coffee
- Add it to brownies for a boozy kick
- Whisk some into whipped cream for a topping or frosting for French toast, cupcakes, cakes, or drinks
Heavy cream is more stable to mix with alcohol
Heavy cream consists of fat and casein milk proteins that have been homogenized to suspend the droplets in a stable oil-in-water emulsion. This product also typically contains small amounts of additives to prevent separation, like carrageenan and gellan gum. It has a pH of 6.5, but when you add acidic ingredients, the pH drops around 5.5 or lower, and the casein begins to lose its repelling properties. Avoid adding strong acids like wine, champagne, lemon, lime, orange, or pineapple juice to the cream. At a pH of 4.6, it completely curdles and looks like cheese curds.
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- 1 ½ cups sweetened condensed milk
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream, or heavy cream
- 5 teaspoons chocolate syrup
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 ⅔ cups Irish whiskey, Jameson recommended
- Blender method: Add sweetened condensed milk, heavy whipping cream, chocolate syrup, and vanilla extract to a blender. Mix on low speed until just combined, about 20 to 30 seconds. You do not want the cream to thicken. Gradually add the whiskey with the mixer running on low until just combined, about 20 seconds.
- Bowl Method: In a large bowl, whisk the sweetened condensed milk, heavy whipping cream, chocolate syrup, and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined but not too frothy. If using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment and mix on low speed (setting 2) for about 30 seconds. Gradually whisk the whisky into the cream mixture until combined, about 20 to 30 seconds.
- Transfer Irish cream to glass storage bottles. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Gently shake the bottle before using.
- Recipe Yield: 32 ounces (960 ml)
- Serving Size: 1.5 ounces (45 ml)
- For a coffee flavor: Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of instant coffee or instant espresso when blending the cream mixture.
- Using cocoa powder: Substitute chocolate syrup with ½ to ¾ teaspoon cocoa powder. The mixture will be slightly less sweet. Whisk in the cream mixture until fully dissolved, then add the whiskey. Strain if needed to remove any clumps.
- For a stronger chocolate flavor: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup. This also makes it slightly sweeter with less of an alcohol bite.
- Sweetener substitutes: Instead of sweetened condensed milk, use 1 ⅓ cups granulated or brown sugar. Fully dissolve in the cream. You may need more cream if the liqueur is too thick after adding the alcohol. Use equal parts of honey or pure maple syrup. The Irish cream’s consistency will not be as dense with these alternatives since there are no milk solids.
- Make it dairy-free: Substitute heavy cream with canned unsweetened coconut milk. Use one of the sweetener substitutes above instead of sweetened condensed milk. The taste will be different than the original recipe.
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