Q: Stephanie (Question sent via twitter; we have expanded it to full sentences for easier reading) – I am making a coconut-milk-based Bailey’s Irish Cream. Do you think coconut milk plus sugar can be subbed for the heavy cream and sweetened condensd milk in the recipe?
A: Alisa – Yes, regular coconut milk slowly cooked down with sugar works beautifully as a substitute for sweetened condensed milk. A specific recipe for sweetened condensed coconut milk is available in Go Dairy Free, and it works wonderfully in so many recipes, from magic bars to rich beverages like Irish “cream.” As for the heavy cream, when substituting for dairy ingredients in recipes such as this one, the fat content is very important. If your recipe calls for heavy cream specifically, allow the coconut milk to sit undisturbed in the refrigerator for 1 hour or longer. The thick cream that makes its way to the top can be skimmed off and used 1:1 in place of heavy cream. I usually get about 1/2 cup of thick cream per can, and use the remaining liquid as a light coconut milk or water in smoothies or other recipes (no need to waste!).
See below for an example of recipes and substitutions for making Dairy-Free Bailey’s Irish Cream …
Here is a popular homemade version of Irish Cream that contains dairy (recipe from Recipezaar), with dairy substitutions noted:
- 1 cup light cream [shake that can of coconut milk and measure out 1 cup. Regular coconut milk, when shaken/stirred until emulsified, has a similar fat content and consistency to light cream]
- 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk [make Sweet Condensed Coconut Milk for best results, see below for alternate option]
- 1 2/3 cups Irish whiskey (more or less to taste)
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals
- 2 tablespoons Hersheys Chocolate Syrup [This is actually dairy-free by ingredients]
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract [You may want to increase the vanilla extract as the coconut flavor can often be detected but usually mellows a bit with vanilla]
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
Directions: Blend together. Refrigerate. Serve over ice.
If you need a shortcut, and don’t have the time to make sweetened condensed coconut milk, then this recipe for Vegan Bailey’s from the Victoria Vegetarian Netwok will likely yield tasty results in a pinch:
- 1 14-oz can regular (full fat) coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup Irish whisky (or to taste)
Directions: Blend together with a whisk, but do not froth. Refrigerate. Serve over ice.
Note: If your coconut has separated into solid and liquid, be sure to mix or blend thoroughly first into a completely smooth liquid with no lumps.
Keep in mind that no food is an exact substitute for another. Coconut milk, particularly full fat coconut milk offers its own flavor nuances. Though many people may not detect the coconut flavor, those with sensitive palates might. Luckily, for some, the flavor is delicious and welcomed. As noted in the first recipe, some additional vanilla extract often merges well with the coconut milk to mellow it a bit. Cheers!
For more dairy-free Q&A topics, see our Ask Alisa Page.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.