ashley englishsmall measures

Small Measures: Homemade Irish Cream

by Ashley

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

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  • Looks delicious. I love the color too! My mom whipped up a handmade liquor treat for Thanksgiving: a spiked apple cider that was light and delicious. It had hot damn cinnamon schnapps, which I think made it. Google search hot damn with apple cider and find a few recipes!

  • mary-ideally, the cream should be consumed within a week for the best flavor. it’ll last up to about 2 weeks, though, given the alcohol it contains. thanks!

  • Yum! We always drink Bailey’s and Coffee on Christmas morning as we open gifts. This year I think we may try making it ourselves, this does sound quite easy. Any Idea on the Calorie count? I know, I Know, but I am just curious and watching my carbs. If you can’t indulge on Christmas when can you?

  • this looks amazing ashley – thanks so much! any tips on substitutes for the vegan/dairy-free crowd? i am spending christmas with a good friend this year who recently went vegan, but used to make irish cream every year with his family. i’d love to surprise him with some!

  • My friend collects cool glass bottles with stoppers (like the ones you get with fancy french lemonade) all year so she can bottle her homemade irish cream and give them away as gifts during the holidays. Come to think of it, I have a few of those in my cupboards. I think I’ll have to try this recipe out!

  • I love Baileys Irish Cream but costs are I very rarely have it these days.
    I do not have any whiskey on hand otherwise I would be straight into it.
    Thank you.

  • My mother-in-law makes this every year and it is amazing. One year, however, she used very inexpensive whiskey. Avoid that temptation–that batch tasted like sweetened lighter fluid!

  • It looks wonderful! I will make this for Christmas Eve with my in-laws. She’s a huge Irish Cream fan. I also make a homemade kahlua and amaretto. Both recipes were given to me by a friend who owned a bread bakery years ago and need to sit for several weeks before serving. The quality of homemade is so much higher than store bought it has ruined me forever. I’m sure this will be no different! Thanks for posting and love you photos too.

  • bridget-i have no clue on the calorie count, sorry! ’tis the season to have a bit of fun, though, right?

    grace-hmmm….good question. i can’t say with any degree of certainty, as i’ve not made it vegan, but perhaps using almond milk in place of the cream and coconut milk (with the fatty solids mixed in) would work, at least in terms of the texture. the flavor profile will, however, naturally be quite different.

    kathleen-awww, shucks! thanks so much. you can also find my writing in all 5 of my books, as well as on my blog, http://www.smallmeasure.com, and in magazines, such as taproot.

    danielle-they belong to jen altman, the photographer. you can ask her directly at: info(at)jeniferaltman(dot)com.

    lise & leah-it’ll be best within a week after it’s made, but it could possible be good for up to 2 weeks, although i’m not absolutely certain. i’d say 7-10 days, to be safest.

  • This looks delicious–I’m going to try making it next weekend! I’m not going to pretend that I’ll gift it, though. Last time I tried that idea (making a German rumtopf throughout the season with garden berries) I have to confess that it just ended up getting enjoyed at my house instead. :-D

  • Vegan cream can be made by combining crushed cashew nuts with apple juice, or, you can buy soya cream :)

  • never heard of it but it sounds delicious. great pink color too. and the glasses, i always want glasses like that, can’t ever find those in Holland.

  • I made this over the weekend and it was a big hit! It’s pretty much gone… just as tasty on the rocks as mixed in to sunday brunch coffee.

  • I live in Dublin and am a HUGE Bailey’s fan – but this. This is delicious. A friend brought it to a party over the weekend and it was the biggest hit. Dessert in a cup! Will be bringing this back to Dublin with me!

  • Could you add mint leaves during the simmer and then strain them out, to make a mint Irish cream? I’m seriously considering experimenting…

  • Please can you tell me how many ml in the cups you use? I’m English and we usually use ml or grams. Thank you.

  • emily-wow. that is, hand’s down, the best compliment for this beverage i can imagine. thank you so, so very much!

    valerie-sounds good to me! i can’t vouch for it definitively, since i haven’t tried infusing the cream with mint on this particular beverage, but the flavor profile is spot on.

    jane-yes, amy’s suggestion for an online conversion calculator is a great recommendation. that site is a wonderful tool for easily converting to metric measurements. thanks, amy!

  • Thanks Amy and Ashley for your help. Have just finished making a batch and it’s fantastic!

  • This is absolutely awesome! I used raspberry flavored coffee to had a hint of raspberry. This is my new addiction !

  • Just made this to give to my best friend for Christmas. I think I like it better than the store bought stuff! Thank you for the fantastic recipe.

  • Did anyone find that the cream got chunky after setting in the fridge? I made this for a few xmas gifts this year, and while it tasted amazing, there were little chunks of cream in it. I’m sure it’s something I did in the process! Just wondering if anyone else had that problem. Thanks!

  • Tara, I had the same problem, I just made a batch to take to a NYE party, and was just re-reading the comments to see if anyone else had this happen. Wondering what I should do differently next time to ensure it doesn’t happen. For this batch, I think I’ll strain it (cold) through a coffee filter to get the chunks out they’re small chunks, but I wouldn’t want to serve to anyone else that way.

  • tara & jennifer-the fats in this cream will definitely set up again once refrigerated, much like heavy cream or buttermilk will do. i recommend either allowing the cream to come back to room temperature and shaking it vigorously before serving, or blitzing it in a blender to re-liquify and evenly distribute any fat globules that may form once chilled.

  • Thanks for the recipe Ashley! I made this with my family over Christmas and it was a big hit. I also had the cream chunks, but let it come to room temp and shook vigorously before serving and they went away. I’m planning to make again for NYE, but will cut out the sugar (and maybe some of the chocolate), as I found it a little on the sweet side. Yummy!!

  • I have made this twice over the holidays and it is wonderful! Far superior to the recipes using instant coffee and a blender. Thanks so much for posting it! It has been a family hit this year!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!!

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

  • 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.

  • 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!

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

  • 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!!!

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.