When it comes to recipe ideas, I have a hard time letting go. My mind will grab hold of a “what if” twist on a classic, and I am off and running until I find the finish line. If that idea seems impossible (or if my first, second and tenth attempt fails), I will ponder it until I figure it out.
This Irish coffee ice cream almost didn’t happen, and that would have been a shame because it shines a light on two things I enjoy—OK, three—coffee, Irish cream and ice cream. You might recall at Christmastime that I had contemplated turning My Dad’s Irish Creme into an ice cream, but I was concerned about how to make it freeze with the amount of Irish whiskey it would take to flavor it correctly. Yes, I have used spirits in my ice creams before, but usually only within the context of a syrup swirl or a splash at the end to help improve the scooping texture. Irish coffee and Irish cream have a great deal of whiskey in them so it wouldn’t be as straightforward. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and when I started searching out formulas for infusing ice cream with booze (and knowing when to say when), I ran across this article on Serious Eats, which gave me enough of a road map to give it a go. But this experiment was not without roadblocks.
As you can see, it turned out fine, but I had a setback the first time I attempted to freeze the mixture, and it had nothing to do with my formula. Here’s something you may not know, but should, if you happen to have an “extra” freezer that you keep in an unheated garage. When the ambient temperature of the garage (or basement, carport, etc.) drops below the settings on your freezer, trouble kicks in. And over last weekend, we had an overnight low of 19° F (which is, frankly, ridiculous and rare for us in North Carolina this close to Spring), and the freezer bowl for my ice cream maker suffered for it because the freezer could not regulate properly with the fluctuation of the outside temperature. I did not realize this, of course, until I tried to freeze my ice cream base. After more than 30 minutes of churning, my Irish coffee not-quite-ice-cream was basically a thin, boozy milkshake (not exactly a terrible thing, either). But what I really wanted was ice cream.
Armed with the Serious Eats information, I refused to give up when my first attempt at freezing failed. I cleared a space in our kitchen freezer and gave the freezer bowl a good solid 24 hours in deep freeze mode. That made all the difference for the outcome of this ice cream, which is perfect for St. Patrick’s Day.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tbsp. espresso powder* (see notes)
1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder*
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup*
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup 80-proof Irish whiskey*
Espresso powder is not just finely ground coffee; this is a specialty ingredient that I used to infuse the milk in my recipe with a deep coffee flavor. Find it in the baking aisle of a well-stocked supermarket or online.
Chocolate is not necessarily an ingredient in Irish coffee, but I considered that a little bit of coffee works to intensify the chocolate flavor of other desserts, so why couldn’t it work the other way around? I chose to dissolve a little dark cocoa powder into the milk at the same time as the espresso powder, and it turned out to be a good decision because my coffee-hating husband found something to enjoy about this ice cream. 😊
I always add a little corn syrup to my ice cream base if I have concerns about ice crystals. Given that I wasn’t sure how the whiskey would behave in the mix, I played it safe.
The Serious Eats article was specific to mention maximum amounts of alcohol that was 80 proof, so I didn’t want to push the limit and mess it up. I used Jameson Irish Whiskey, the same brand I use when I make my Dad’s Irish cream recipe. Lower proof would not be a problem, but if your whiskey is higher, I’d recommend using less.
Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the espresso powder and dark cocoa powder until dissolved and evenly incorporated. Remove from heat and stir in the corn syrup.
Transfer the milk to a large bowl and whisk it together with the sweetened condensed milk. These ingredients are at opposite ends of the consistency scale, and I like to combine them first so that I don’t accidentally whisk the heavy cream into thickening.
Gently whisk or stir in the heavy cream until blended, then stir in the Irish whiskey. Cover the bowl and refrigerate several hours to overnight (colder is better).
Stir or whisk the ice cream base just before freezing to reincorporate any settled ingredients. Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions, and don’t be surprised if it takes a few extra minutes to achieve soft-serve consistency. Transfer the churned ice cream to an insulated container and put in the coldest spot of your (inside) freezer overnight before serving.
Because of the high alcohol content, this ice cream will scoop very easily and will melt more quickly than typical ice cream upon serving.