Educational

Homemade Cream Liqueur – A Comprehensive Guide

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Ribbons are an essential part of the process.

It’s no secret that peoples’ drinking habits are governed by the season.   You don’t sell watermelon and cucumber vodkas in the winter, you do it in the summer.  You don’t sell pumpkin spice rum just in time for valentines day, you sell it for Thanksgiving.  For me, a cream liqueur like Bailey’s Irish Cream or Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream are just made for winter.  As soon as the temperatures start dropping (below 70°) and I bust out the light sweaters (this is Arizona after all), there is just nothing I want more than a rich, creamy glass of something that’s bad for my waistline.  I’ll admit, sometimes I get lazy and I just grab a bottle off the shelf, but most of the time I prefer to make my own cream liqueur at home and with how easy and fast it is, so should you.

When I say easy and fast, I’m not exaggerating.  When I make our whiskey cream liqueur down at the Fire Station, I can do two bottles in about 10 minutes, set up and clean up included.  That usually lasts us about a week, though your usage at home may vary… Me and a few friends can put down a bottle in a night and still have room for more.  The photo album I have for you today takes just a little bit longer since I started with chocolate pieces instead chocolate powder.  It should take you roughly 25 minutes from start to finish… interestingly enough, exactly as long as it takes to make three corn dogs in the oven.

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But less time than it takes to get a really really good picture for you blog.

Step 1: Insert corn dogs into the oven at 350° if applicable
Step 2: Take a big ol’ pot and put your chocolate chips in it.  Set your stovetop to “melt” or just super low.

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It is actually mandatory to eat at least 3 chocolate chips before melting.
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Yeah, I appreciate your contribution but I’m not doing that…

The chocolate packaging says to use a double boiler but I don’t have one and that sounds like a lot of work.  The idea behind the double boiler is so that your solids don’t stick to the sides and get burnt and you get a better, more even heat.  In order to combat the ‘burning’ thing, I put about 8 oz of heavy cream in now so that I had something to stir around and for the chocolate to melt into.

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I MAKE MY OWN RULES… and just pray nothing catches on fire because I can’t find the fire extinguisher we got…

I chose to use Ghiradelli chocolate because this was for a gift and I completely love their chocolate and will take any excuse to use it.  Where I live there is also a local chocolatier, Ceretta’s from whom I like to fill my chocolate needs.  Support local where you can but if the Nestle chips are all that are available, don’t sweat it, your liqueur will still be awesome.  I prefer to use a dark chocolate since I like a richer, darker flavor with less sweetness but it’s entirely up to you whether to use a dark or milk chocolate.

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Yeah, we are starting to get there.  It’s noticeably browner than it was when we started.

This is the longest portion of the whole process since you can’t rush melting the chocolate, you’ll only end up having it burn and stick to the sides.  It still only took me about 7-8 minutes of waiting.

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Ohh yeah, there it is.  That hot chocolate on cream action…

Also, keep stirring.  I hope you don’t need to be told but yeah, regular stirring is pretty essential here.

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I made so much liqueur that the pot had to be thiiiiiiiiis biiiiiiig.

There it is.  This is when I finally started relaxing about not  using the double boiler.  Looking creamy, well melted. fairly even.  We still have a couple lumps in there but for the most part everything is melted down and we can start adding other ingredients.  Don’t worry about those, they will get taken care of.

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Oh man, if you thought the chocolate was unhealthy, wait until you see the rest of it!

Step 3: Just toss all the rest of that shit in! I chose to add the rest of the heavy whipping cream first.  As you add things in, keep stirring until it’s all uniform.

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It’s temporary abstract art… It represents the futility of the human experience and also my new years resolutions.

It is absolutely crucial at this step that you don’t share any with the puppy, no matter how much she gazes at you with those accusatory little eyes.  It’s not for her.  She can’t have any.

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I am literally the worst.  Cooking for like 20 minutes without feeding her at all.  Someone call CPS.

Next up I put all of the Sweetened Condensed Milk in.  Careful with these ones, it can be kind of frustrating getting all of it out of the little cans.  Patience is the key, or like… a rubber spatula.  That would do it too.

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I didn’t use patience or a spatula 🙁 I’m sorry.  Please don’t tell anyone.

This is the really exciting part, the spices and the flavors!   For this batch I was making a ‘Mexican hot chocolate” version so I used Cayenne pepper and Cinnamon but we will talk below in the “variations” section about what else you can do!

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Come on! Be my little Pepper Master!

With all the cream and the milk I was honestly getting a little worried I wouldn’t have enough room in the pot for the liquor which would have been pretty awkward… Don’t worry! There was booze enough for everyone! …but mostly me.

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This product placement was almost as seamless as a Transformers movie

Ding!! It’s time to take your corn dogs out of the oven! Wow, that was pretty tough, but I’m glad we all made it through together.

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Not sharing this one with the dog is also advised but mostly because it’s dinner and you probably should eat all of them yourself.

Once everything was mixed together I got a little nervous that it wasn’t properly mixed so I put it all through a blender too before bottling.  It’s probably not necessary but it made me feel better.

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Awe yeah, spice it on up boye.
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I need some of that good pure stuff… yeah, almond extract.

So this was the long process, mostly because for this I chose to melt the chocolate from scratch.  The recipe I used for this particular batch (scaled down to one bottle) is as follows:

Mexican Chocolate Cream Liqueur

1 Bottle (750 mL) Whiskey
2 Cans (14 oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 Cup Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Chips
2 Cups of Heavy Cream
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Tsp Almond Extract
2 Tbsp Powdered Cayenne Pepper
1 Tbsp Ground Cinnamon

This yields 2 bottles (750 mL) and about 8 oz left over for sampling.  The final ABV should be about 18% which is pretty low so it should be very easy sipping for everybody on your guest list.

The next recipe I’m going to give you is the one that I use at Lucidi Distilling to create our Whiskey Cream Liqueur, festively called the Something Special on our menu.

Something Special – Whiskey Cream Liqueur

1 Bottle (750 mL) Fire Station No. 1 Canadian Rye Whiskey
2 Cans (14 oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 Cups of Heavy Cream
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Tsp Almond Extract
2 Tsp Hazelnut Extract
3 Tbsp Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Powder
1 Tbsp Instant Coffee

Combine all into a blender (it should fit a regular size blender just slightly over the liquid limit line…) and pulse a few times and you are good to go!  This will be slightly higher ABV than the Mexican Chocolate since we used a powdered chocolate and lost the volume from the melted chips, but it should still be right around 20-22% ABV.

To me, this is the best of all worlds.  The only things I don’t like about Bailey’s is that 1. it’s a little too sweet and 2. they have all these fantastic flavorings that aren’t in the original.  Why have a dark chocolate, a hazelnut, a vanilla, and an almond version when you could just have them in the original and just have a better flavor to begin with?!  Our cream liqueur is very mellow, not too sweet, and it really focuses in on the nuttier flavors.  This is specially formulated for how I want things to taste and nobody else.  When you make yours at home, you can put your own spin on things to make it exactly the way that you want it, as long as you follow a pretty simple formula.

Basic Cream Liqueur Formula

1 Bottle of Spirit
2 cans of Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream (or alternative, we will discuss below)
less than 4 TBSP assorted Flavors (Coffee, Chocolate, Almond, Hazelnut, Vanilla, etc.)

Which Spirit to Use?

You might notice in the commercial examples I gave as well as the two recipes I showed above that Whiskey was used as the base spirit, but don’t let that hold you back.  The base of Khalua and Rumchata are both Rum and they are fantastic.  If I were making a coconut cream liqueur then I would absolutely reach for a silver or spiced rum instead.  Vodka makes a great neutral base for anything and you won’t go amiss here, though it won’t really bring anything special to the table either. I would advise staying away from really pronounced flavors like Gin or Scotch… they probably won’t play as well with cream as you might hope.  Maybe smokey peat flavor and chocolate pair well for you but I wouldn’t gamble on my friends and family liking it too.  If you do want to use a Whiskey I personally prefer either a Canadian or an Irish whiskey since they tend to have a sweeter, mellower profile that will complement your final flavors.

Also, don’t spring for the top shelf for this one, since the cream and chocolate will cover all the nuances that you’re paying for with a $50 bottle.  Something in the middle range is more than enough, just as long as it’s a decent quality.  As a general rule I reach for whatever is on the middle shelf for this kind of thing, but if you have a Costco membership (or if you don’t since you don’t need one to buy alcohol! Fun Fact!) then any of their Kirkland brand spirits will be your best bang-for-buck.

That’s a lot of calories… Can we change that?

I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there looking at this recipe and wondering if it’s too soon to give up on their new years resolution… The good news is that you can totally substitute alternatives, the bad news is that nothing is ever going to taste quite as good as a bunch of cream and sugar.  You also might want to consider looking at alternatives for those lactose intolerant people in your life.  The original recipe probably reads more like a horror story for them.

The first one to look at is the Sweetened Condensed Milk.  If you are concerned about the ‘processed’ nature of it, you can make yourself some at home relatively easily.  If you’re concerned about the fat or sugar content that’s probably the way to go too but keep in mind that this is a dessert drink.  If you reduce the fat and the cream and the sugar content you probably won’t like it as much.  It’s like trying to make cake a health food… you can cut corners here and there but if you lose too much then nobody at the office is going to eat your cake, Janice.

Next up we have the heavy whipping cream, the big contributor.  The easiest and most acceptable alternative is a fat free half and half which you can find just as easily in any store.  You can use this without any consistency problems and without a huge change in the flavor.  If you want a non-dairy alternative you can consider soy or coconut cream alternatives.  Personally I’ve never tried these but it’s certainly worth a shot.  The only difference I would expect is a less creamy, less silky texture.  If I were using a coconut cream I would almost certainly try to play that up like in a German Chocolate Liqueur or maybe a rum and coconut cream liqueur.

Spices and flavorings

Now this is where it gets good.  You’ve got your basic recipe, you know what Bailey’s tastes like, you know what chocolate and coffee and cream taste like, but now it’s time to start  experimenting.  There are literally SO many options available to you at this point, it’s practically endless.  Let’s start with some basic rules, and two things that I believe should be in almost every cream liqueur you make.

  1. Vanilla – I‘m a firm believer that just a little bit of vanilla goes a very long way.  It will add an extra dimension to your liqueur that your guests will love.
  2. Almond – Just a touch of almond can really add depth to an otherwise overly-sweet ‘simple’ tasting liqueur.  It’s kind of like with music, if you’re missing the base line it’s just not the same song and Almond and Vanilla are your ‘base’ line.
  3. Chocolate – Dark, Milk, White, whatever you want.  Remember that this is a dessert product… you don’t have to add chocolate but I really strongly recommend using at least some kind in your mix.

Rules:

  1. Always use as natural as possible.  Your liquid extracts should always be 100% pure extract, not imitation.
  2. 1 Tsp of your ‘background‘ flavors like vanilla, almond, lemon, ginger.
  3. 2 Tsp of your ‘middle‘ flavors, things that you want to be recognizable but not too ‘in your face’ such as hazelnut, cinnamon, mint, orange.
  4. 1-3 Tbsp of your ‘major‘ flavors like Chocolate, Coffee, Banana, Maple, Peppermint, whatever you want to be the most recognizable flavor.
  5. Build your own “hierarchy” of background, middle and major flavors for your liqueur.  If you want a Vanilla liqueur then that will be your Major flavor, now what backs it up? Chocolate? Orange? Almond? You need to answer these questions before you start putting together your own recipe.
  6. Start small! If you want to make a big batch of something unusual for gifts or a party, make a few small (less than half a bottle) batches first to make sure you are making something that really works.

From there it’s mostly up to you.  Above I made a Mexican Chocolate Liqueur by adding Cinnamon and Cayenne Pepper.  A German Chocolate Cake would be as easy as adding essence of Coconut and a little more Almond to your ingredients.  The spices are really where you make the final difference.  Below I’ll give you a quick list to jump off of for ideas.  I’ll divide the flavors into Background, Middle, and Major.

Mexican Chocolate – Vanilla, Almond, Cinnamon, Cayenne, Dark Chocolate

Strawberry Shortcake – Vanilla, Almond, Lemon, White Chocolate, Strawberry

German Chocolate Cake – Vanilla, Almond, Dark Chocolate, Coconut

Hazelnut – Vanilla, Cinnamon, White Chocolate, Coffee, Hazelnut

Christmas Chocolate Orange – Lemon, Cinnamon, Dark Chocolate, Orange

Candy Cane – Vanilla, Almond, White Chocolate, Peppermint

Using this formula you should have no problem making your own cream liqueur at home! Remember, it’s always easier to add more than to take something out, so if you are unsure of how much of a specific spice or extract to add you should always err on the side of less and add more if you think it needs it.

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You *deserve* something special, don’t you?

Thanks for reading and if you make a great recipe using this guide don’t forget to share it back here! Good luck, live well, drink better and have a good time!

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