There are two types of people in this world: People who would be put off by the question “Ever drink Bailey’s out of a shoe?” and people who watched The Mighty Boosh in their early 20s. If you’re not familiar with pre-Great British Bake Off’s Noel Fielding, all you need to know is that Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur plays a major role in a Boosh episode about a scaly manfish, and I probably drank more of the stuff as a result.
But to say I only enjoy Bailey’s because an absurdist British TV show would be unfair — it’s a pretty delightful little liqueur. It’s good over ice cream. It’s good in coffee. It’s good on its own, over ice. It’s sweet, creamy, and beige, and you can make your own with just a few pantry staples (and whiskey).
Beyond ease and general deliciousness, one benefit to making your own Irish Cream (or your own anything) is customisation. You can make your liqueur super boozy, super chocolatey, or give it a hint of almond, vanilla, or coffee. Heck, you can even swap out Irish whiskey for bourbon (and make Kentucky Cream) or vodka (and make русский Cream). You get the idea. I only had half a cup of Irish whiskey, so I supplemented mine with bourbon for a liqueur that was extremely representative of my heritage, and it was very good.
At its core, however, homemade Irish Cream only requires four things: a cup of whiskey, a cup of heavy cream, a can of sweetened condensed milk, and some sort of chocolate. You can add a tablespoon or two of chocolate syrup (which will make your beverage even sweeter), or you can add unsweetened cocoa powder for a more adult, slightly bitter chocolate note.
If you decide to go with the latter, take heed: you cannot simply whisk a few teaspoons of cocoa powder into your liquids — it will float on top and never go into solution, no matter how vigorously you stir. You have to make a paste by adding cream to the cocoa in small portions, stirring completely to make a paste before adding another aliquot. Keep slowly adding cream and working it into the paste until the paste lightens to the colour of milk chocolate frosting and starts to behave like a liquid. Then — and only then — can you add the rest of your ingredients.
The cocoa step is the most involved portion of the whole process, and honestly it’s not that involved. Provided you have all the ingredients, you are mere moments away from your very own (approximately 750-milliliter) bottle of delicious Irish Cream. To make it, you will need:
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cup Irish whiskey (or bourbon, or rye, or dark rum, or vodka)
- 1 x 400 g can of sweetened condensed milk
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large pinch of salt
- Optional: 1/2 a teaspoon of almond extract and/or 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
Place the cocoa powder in a medium mixing bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of the cream, and stir and mash with a silicone spatula to make a paste. Add another 1/2 teaspoon and repeat. Continue doing this, 1/2 teaspoons at a time, until the paste lightens in colour and becomes pourable.
Drizzle in the rest of the cream, whisking while you pour, until the cocoa is fully incorporated. Add the remainder of your ingredients and whisk to combine. Funnel into a large glass bottle and chill in the fridge before serving. Homemade Irish Cream will keep for at least two weeks. (Some say it lasts over a month, but scientists have never been able to keep it around that long.)
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