Small Measures: Homemade Irish Cream

I came to alcohol a bit late. While I recall my mom sipping white wine, clad in skintight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and listening to the Eagles circa 1981–1982, she eschewed the stuff completely shortly thereafter and has ever since. The diligent, studious type, I mostly steered away from alcohol until my early 20s. But a fateful encounter one December with a batch of homemade Irish cream proved to be a game changer, and I’ve been enjoying the art of imbibing ever since.

When visiting the home of a former paramour for the holidays, some friends of his parents dropped by. They brought a bottle containing a creamy, mocha-tinged substance, which was almost immediately divvied up and poured over rocks glasses filled with ice. What these generous family friends had brought was their much-loved, seriously delicious and highly covetable homemade Irish cream. I was instantly smitten, and have been ever since.

For today’s Small Measures, I’m sharing my take on that tempting libation sampled so many winters past. It’s very easy to make (start to finish, the preparation is less than 30 minutes); can be whipped up with easy-to-come-by ingredients; and contains none of the artificial flavorings, coloring agents or preservatives used in commercially prepared Irish creams. Best of all, it’ll make anyone you choose to give it to very, very happy. Irish eyes are smiling, friends, when they’re knocking back a glass of this! — Ashley English

See the recipe for Homemade Irish Cream after the jump . . .

My recipe varies a bit from other Irish creams. Actually, it varies a lot. Instead of blitzing everything in a blender as is the norm, I like to warm my cream slowly over low heat, resulting in a beverage that remains thicker longer than its whizzed kin. For the liquor, I use Bushmills, but any quality Irish whiskey does the job. As a head’s up, please know that this is an alcohol-forward drink, which helps it retain its flavor when added to other beverages, like coffee. That said, if the drink is too stiff for your liking, feel free to reduce the amount of alcohol called for.

Irish Cream Liquor
Makes 4 cups

The Goods

  • 1 cup strong coffee
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon dark cocoa
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 14-ounce can organic, sweetened condensed milk*
  • 2 cups Irish whiskey (I used Bushmills)


*The sweetened condensed milk I use includes organic milk and sugar and nothing else. It’s a time saver, to be sure. If you’d rather make your own, by all means, feel free. Just know that you’ll need to allocate several hours for reducing the milk before you’re able to proceed with the rest of the recipe below.

The Deal

1. Bring the coffee to a gentle simmer in a medium-size saucepan.

2. Add the cream, cocoa, sugar, honey and extracts, and whisk thoroughly.

3. Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, whisking frequently, until the mixture begins to thicken.

4. Remove the saucepan from the heat; whisk in the sweetened condensed milk.

5. Transfer the mixture to a heat-safe glass, ceramic or metal bowl, and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

6. Whisk in the whiskey until completely blended.

7. At this point, you can either allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then serve or transfer it to a lidded container and store it in the refrigerator.

8. Serve over ice.

This beverage isn’t shelf stable, so if you intend to gift it, tell the recipient to keep it refrigerated. That is if it lasts that long!

What about you? Have any homemade liquors you whip up come holiday time or cocktail hour, regardless of the season? I’d love hear about them. Otherwise, the skies are darkening, 5 o’clock is nearing, the wood stove is blazing and I do believe it’s time for a glass of this good stuff. Cheers!

Photos and styling by Jen Altman

  1. marthawinger says:

    Thanks for this recipe! It was a big hit at our NY party. Next I want to tackle Rum Chata and thanks to this recipe, I think I know how to do it! Swap out rum for whisky, cinnamon for the almond extract.

  2. Claire says:

    I used 40% cream (here in Belgium we get anything from 15% cream, which is light to 40% cream), and I have no chunks at all. I whisked most of the time though whilst simmering. The only thing that happens in the fridge is that the cocoa moves up, and the drink needs a good shake before serving. The Irish cream certainly is delicious. The friend who got it as a New Year’s present first said: do I have to drink it within two weeks? But after she tasted it, she said: this won’t last two weeks :) I think this will be great in summer to serve over vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

  3. Graham says:

    If I use (god forbid) ultra-pasteurized cream, will the deliciousness last longer?

  4. Maureen says:

    I add butterscotch schnapps !

  5. I am so gonna try make this myself :D

  6. Rachel M says:

    I just have to say, I made three batches for our family Christmas (consumed over 4-5 days) and everyone loved it. I sent three more batches, including a vegan version, home with other family for Christmas and they all loved it. The vegan loved hers; I used coconut milk instead of cream, and used agave nectar and coconut milk reduced waaaay down to make a sweetened condensed milk substitute.

    I love that for the cost of one bottle of Irish whiskey I can make 3 batches… One cup per batch is enough for us. I don’t often make special holiday things after the holidays, but this is so easy and good that it’s a keeper year-round! Thank you Ashley!!

  7. Anu says:

    I made this today, OMG! so yummy… thanks for sharing this gem of a recipe…never buying Baileys ever again…

  8. Monica says:

    ugh I read the instructions wrong and added the whiskey with all the ingredients at the beginning instead of at the very end. Wa wa. I saw whisk and I guess i thought it was whiskey.

  9. Manny says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Just one comment; your pic shows Almond Flavoring. Alas, this isn’t the same as extract – it has no alcohol and is sweetened. Your recipe calls for extract. It probably makes absolutely no difference at all – but which did you use, yourself? Just curious. Thanks!

  10. Lillian says:

    Making this brilliant recipe again, by popular demand, for the third year running! has become an integral part of our Christmas – thanks guys :)

  11. Sandy says:

    I love this recipe!!!!!! I used to make it years ago but my teens would drink it! My old recipe had eggs and instant coffee and this one is so much better!!!! Gotta go and make another batch! Merry Christmas to all!!!

  12. Rachel M says:

    Just wanted to say I’m coming back to this recipe for our upcoming days with family for Christmas. I buy three 1-liter Weck carafes and it looks so beautiful in them. Everyone’s looking forward to it!

  13. Jennifer says:

    This has become an every year at Christmas recipe. I make a few small changes. I skip the coffee (and thus the reducing down) by just using a heaping tsp of instant espresso instead. I use chocolate syrup instead of cocoa powder (b/c the powder doesn’t want to mix in and then sinks) and then skip the added sugar, since there is plenty in the syrup. I wait until everything is off heat to add the extracts, so they don’t evaporate. SO danged good. Thanks so much for this recipe!

  14. Just tried it says:

    I just tried this following the recipe to a “T” and it tastes like sweet chocolate almond liqueur. It’s nice but not like baileys at all.


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