vegan irish cream

After Guinness and Jameson, Baileys is probably the next most popular Irish beverage. My girlfriend would argue in favor of Magners, one of her favorite ciders, but just about everyone is familiar with Baileys Irish Cream.

I enjoy Baileys, it’s a nice addition to a mug of coffee or even to sip by itself. The problem is it doesn’t always sit well in my stomach. I think it’s the mix of dairy, alcohol and whatever else is in there that keeps the stuff shelf stable for up to two years after opening.

I figured I would make my own Irish cream in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. But then decided I might as well try it without the dairy. I wasn’t sure that was even possible. At first glance at a few homemade dairy-free Irish cream recipes, I wasn’t impressed. Many relied on coconut milk and looked too watery to be a realistic alternative to the classic.

Having made cashew cream as part of a vegan cheese sauce before, I thought cashews could also be used here to help get the consistency right. The first time I soaked and blended cashews, I was surprised by the creaminess of the resulting liquid. It’s way better than what you get with most store-bought coconut or almond milks, both of which are not only too watery, but also lack flavor. That’s why cashews are a staple in vegan cooking. Though I’m not vegan, I always keep a big jar of cashews in my pantry. I throw them into salads or just keep them around for snacking.

One of the other key ingredients here is the sweetened condensed coconut milk. It’s essentially the same as regular sweetened condensed milk, except that it’s made with coconut milk rather than cow’s milk. It’s not available everywhere, though. I couldn’t find a can of it at Hannaford, but did in the baking section of the Rutland Co-op. It’s maybe three dollars for a can by Nature’s Charm.

If you can’t locate a can, you could try substituting an equal amount of coconut cream (not milk) sweetened with a couple tablespoons of maple syrup. I haven’t tried this out and can’t say how well it will work, but sweetened condensed milk is essentially sweetened cream that has been cooked down until thickened.

Of course, you’ll need Irish whiskey, which is what provides the alcoholic component of Irish cream. You don’t need anything top shelf, so don’t break the bank on a bottle for this recipe. I found Tullamore D.E.W. to work fine, and it also happens to be on sale this month at Vermont liquor stores.

Once you have your ingredients, it’s simple to make the Irish cream. Everything is just whisked together in a bowl. A blender works too, if you don’t mind washing more dishes. And if that’s the case, we should be friends. I have a never-ending supply of dirty dishes just waiting for you.

You don’t have to include the espresso and cocoa powder in your Irish cream, but if you do, you’ll find yourself with something akin to adult chocolate milk. Without, you’ll have the more traditional flavor of Baileys. Personally, I prefer to include them, but it might depend on how you plan to enjoy your handcrafted Irish beverage. I wasted no time adding it into a glass of iced coffee. It’s almost spring, after all.

Aside from iced coffee, you can add Irish cream to hot coffee, mix it into a cup of Earl Grey tea, use it as a flavoring for buttercream frosting, pour it over a piece of bread pudding, or combine it with a stout for an Irish Slammer. You can’t go wrong in a glass with ice, either.

However you enjoy it, this dairy-free Irish cream is a surprisingly decent alternative. It’s not exactly like Baileys, but it will do the job just fine, especially for those who can’t do dairy or find their stomachs being less than agreeable with the regular version.

Dairy-free Irish cream

Makes about 32 ounces

1 12-ounce can of sweetened condensed coconut milk

1 tablespoon espresso powder

2 tablespoons cocoa powder (optional)

1 cup whiskey

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cups cashew cream (recipe below)

In a large bowl, whisk together the condensed coconut milk, espresso powder and cocoa powder until smooth. Then add the whiskey, vanilla and cashew cream, whisking with each addition. Transfer to a bottle and store in the fridge until ready to use. It will keep for at least a week. Shake well before pouring.

Cashew cream

Makes about 2 cups

3/4 cups raw cashews

1 ¾ cups water

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the cashews and boil for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you could soak them in water at room temperature for at least eight hours. But I usually forget to plan ahead like that.

Strain the water from the cashews and transfer to a blender with the 1 ¾ cups of water. Blend for 1-2 minutes, depending on the power of your blender, until smooth. If your blender won’t get the cream completely smooth, just strain out any remaining cashew pieces.

This is one of the few dairy-free creams that works well for me in coffee. I find most store-bought dairy-free creamers to be the equivalent of adding skim milk to my coffee. And I think if you added a few dates, some vanilla and a little salt when blending the cashews, you’d have an even better coffee creamer.

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