I think one of the most iconic Christmas movies has to be Christmas Vacation. It captures some of the most wonderful and anxious feelings we have around the holidays. The anticipation of the meals, drinks, decorations, presents, conversations, and the inevitability that your anticipation will be only partially fulfilled. And then there’s the family. The loveable yet pull-your-hair-out crazy family that you get to spend hours and hours with.
This sounds extremely strange, but when I was younger, I was always jealous of the Griswald’s because it seemed like they celebrated the holidays for a month. I mean really—so many festive activities and a full house for at least a week. I never actually counted the days, but it is totally at least a week. (PS fun fact did you know that Clark was a food scientist?!) But now that I’m a bit older, I kind of understand how borderline-insane that is. Yes the family time is wonderful, but everything in moderation…And that’s the cue for the Irish coffee.
Last week, I shared the perfect nightcap for this time of year, but now I’m handling the morning.
I always liked the idea of Irish coffee. It’s like a grown-up version of the mimosa. Except darker and more epic in basically every way. The flavors are bolder, the liquor is stronger, and it will pep up your day a little brighter. When you’re at a big family gathering, I think we need that morning pick-me-up.
And–Bonus! This post is making your holiday morning survival Irish coffee even more life-saving. Because we’ve got Drizly! Drizly is a fabulous company that delivers liquor, beer, and wine to your front door, as long as you’re in their delivery zone! They work with your local stores so that you can be sure there are no mark-ups, and you’ll be supporting your community. All while you can stay toasty warm by your Christmas tree waiting for the refills to come. You can also schedule deliveries if you know that you just don’t want to make the trip to the store for that case of wine you’ve been meaning to get. Don’t you wish it was always this easy? The Jameson Whiskey for this post was provided by Drizly, but, as always, all opinions are my own. (Get the Jameson right now, and you’ll be making this drink in no time!)
This particular Irish coffee has a malted whipped cream and a few of my favorite seasonal spices to add that special touch and play on the flavors from the coffee and whiskey. There is a crumbling of gingersnaps on top because my favorite part about dipping cookies in milk used to be the very last few sips that had concentrated cookie flavor, and, also, why not? But the piece de resistance is the Irish whiskey. You can’t have an Irish coffee without it!
Irish whiskey is a protected origin name—just like champagne or Vermont maple syrup. There are certain stipulations along with the location of production in order to bear the name of “Irish” on the whiskey label. For example, the whiskey must be aged for at least three years in pretty small volumes to maintain good aging quality. Additionally, the whiskey must be distilled to an alcohol percentage of less than 94.8% using yeast and cereal grains.
The Irish whiskey regulations are actually very similar to the Scotch whisky ones though, generally, Scotch whisky is distilled twice while Irish whiskey is distilled three times giving it a smoother, less smoky finish. As a contrast, American Bourbon whiskey is made from at least 51% corn in the grain mixture, and there is no aging requirement.
But what is whiskey? Whiskey is a distilled liquor. Grains, generally barley, are fermented with water, using yeast, to create a mixture that has a relatively low alcohol percentage. Think wine or beer. That mixture is then distilled to concentrate the alcohol and create a purer tasting product. The distillation process is, in its simplest form, the act of controlled boiling in which the alcohol that is boiled off is collected.
However, the act is slightly more complicated because there are desired and undesired volatiles that are boiled off from distillates. The first fraction of the distillate is generally discarded because it has compounds that are extremely unpleasant—aromas such as sweat, wet dog, etc. It takes an experienced distiller to understand when you should start collecting the distillate. The second fraction is where the general magic happens and we get all of the great phenols, higher alcohols, etc. Once the second distillate is collected, the entire process can be repeated for purity’s sake, but from there we age the mixture.
When the distillate is aged, it’s similar to how we think of wine production. Materials in the liquor begin to react with each other and mellow out the overall flavor while creating new, deeper profiles in the liquor. For example, those higher alcohols, aka fusel oils, I mentioned in the previous paragraph are partially responsible for that unpleasant bite in moonshine. Generally, we keep these low in liquors that are meant to sell quickly. In aged liquors, however, these fusel oils interact and produce mild, more desirable smelling components in the liquor.
Looking for an interesting tidbit to share at your holiday cocktail parties? Why are pot stills usually made from copper? Well copper reacts with compounds in the fermented mixture such as hydrogen sulfide, methylmercaptan, etc. to prevent the formation of disgusting aromas like rotten eggs in your final product.
So here is the recipe! The general Irish coffee uses plain heavy cream, but, like I mentioned earlier, I spiced it up a bit. Additionally, I’ve included my favorite recipe for gingersnaps if you’re looking to make the crumbs yourself while also biting into a freshly-baked gingersnap cookie. However, store-bought will do fine. These are really excellent cookies though…
Holiday Irish Coffee
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 ounces (1 cup) of hot, strong coffee
1 ½ ounces Irish whiskey (I use Jameson)
A “collar” (a couple tablespoons) of spiced malted whipped cream—recipe follows
Sprinkling of gingersnap crumbs—recipe follows
- Fill your mug of choice with hot water to heat the cup for 3 or so minutes.
- Dump the water out and put the tablespoon of brown sugar in the bottom of the mug. Fill the mug with coffee and stir to dissolve. Add the whiskey and stir.
- Top with the spiced cream and a sprinkling of gingersnap crumbs. Serve with a gingersnap cookie, and enjoy!
Spiced Malted Whipped Cream
Makes enough for 4 Irish coffees
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon malted milk powder
A big pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
- With a stand mixer or a very strong hand, whip the cream until soft peaks form. If you overbeat accidentally, simply add a tablespoon or two of fresh cream and fold in.
- Gently fold in the remaining ingredients.
Makes 35-48 cookies depending on size (see note below)
Adapted from Serious Eats
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ¾ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped/grated
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
A few cracks black pepper
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter; firm but workable (basically left at room temperature for 45 minutes or so)
3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 large egg
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
Optional: Sugar for finishing (see suggestion in step 6)
- Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Combine the sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, gingers, vanilla, pepper, butter, molasses, and maple syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low to initially combine, then increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl. Add the egg and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes more. Stop and scrape the bowl once more.
- Turn the mixer onto the lowest setting and slowly sprinkle the whole-wheat flour into the mix. Continue to mix on low until the dough is fully combined.
- Scoop the dough out using a tablespoon and a half scoop. This would be equivalent to a heaping tablespoon if you don’t have the scoop. This will make approximately 35 or so cookies. If you use a leveled tablespoon scoop, you should get around 48 cookies, though they will be slightly smaller, and they won’t get as crinkly on top as the photos show here.
- As you scoop the dough ball out, gently roll into a ball and tumble the dough ball in sugar before placing on one of the prepared baking sheets. Some sugar options are raw sugar, maple sugar, cardamom sugar (mix a teaspoon of cardamom into ½ cup granulated sugar), or regular granulated sugar.
- Space the dough balls out evenly with a few inches between each dough ball, but do not flatten. They will flatten on their own in the oven.
- Bake, one tray at a time, in the preheated oven until puffed and a medium brown—22 minutes. Cool directly on the baking sheet for at least an hour to allow for sufficient crisping up time!