From my house on a hill in County Louth I can see six other counties on a clear day, and due west is the distinctive hill rising up at Bailieborough in County Cavan, where they make Coole Swan Dairy Cream Liqueur.
Coole Swan is an artisan Irish cream liqueur that its makers created 231 versions of until it was perfect. It starts with their 100% natural ingredients, using Irish cream that’s delivered fresh from the local dairy every morning, which is then combined with the other ingredients (white Belgian chocolate, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, cocoa and single malt Irish whiskey) within two hours. It was named after a W.B. Yeats poem, ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’, and even the bottle has been carefully thought out — the shape is based on a 19th-century Irish milk bottle.
I had Coole Swan for the first time last week and I was curious to see how it would compare to its rival, the ubiquitous Baileys. The colour is more like cream versus Baileys’ latte-coloured drink. It’s also not as thick and has a stronger alcohol kick compared to the cloying sweetness of Baileys. All in all, it’s a more sophisticated drink. I’m not the only one who thinks highly of it — Coole Swan received a double-gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2009 and it was also unanimously voted best liqueur.
Drinking it chilled over ice is the easiest way to serve Coole Swan, but they’ve also created a few cocktail and dessert recipes with it, which are available on their website. Panna cotta, which translates as ‘cooked cream’ in Italian, is a perfect use for Irish cream and takes all of 10 minutes to make. And because you don’t need much (only 125 ml), it means there’s still plenty left in the bottle to enjoy.
Irish Cream Panna Cotta with Mocha Ganache
adapted from www.cooleswan.com
If you can’t get Coole Swan, substitute another Irish cream liqueur, such as Baileys. The mocha ganache perfectly complements the chocolate in the liqueur, but you could also try serving the panna cotta with a strawberry coulis instead, or even better, some Irish coffee curd from Crossogue Preserves if you can get your hands on it. These need to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but can be made up to 2 days in advance, kept covered and well chilled, making them an ideal make-ahead dessert.
for the panna cotta:
1 vanilla pod or 2 teaspoons good-quality vanilla extract (not essence)
500 ml (2 cups) cream
1 packet gelatine powder (3 teaspoons)
150 ml (1/2 cup) Irish cream liqueur
sunflower oil or other neutral-tasting oil, for greasing the ramekins
for the mocha ganache:
100 g (4 oz) milk chocolate, broken into pieces
125 ml (1/2 cup) cream
1 tablespoon espresso or strong coffee, cooled
fresh strawberries, to serve
To make the panna cotta, scrape the vanilla seeds into the cream (or add the vanilla extract) and gently bring to the boil in a saucepan. Immediately remove from the heat and sprinkle over the gelatine, stirring briskly until the gelatine has completely dissolved.* Allow the cream to cool slightly, then add the Coole Swan and stir well.
Lightly grease 4 ramekins and carefully pour in the mixture. Alternatively, you could use small preserving jars, martini glasses, wine glasses, cappuccino cups — you get the idea. (If you’re going to serve the panna cotta in something that you won’t be inverting onto a plate, then there’s no need to grease it.) Transfer the panna cotta to the fridge to set for at least 1 hour.
To make the mocha ganache, set a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Put the chocolate in the bowl and allow it to melt. Add in the cream and coffee and stir until they’re been incorporated into the chocolate and it’s nice and smooth. Allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a jug and pour a layer of ganache on top of each panna cotta, carefully smoothing it out evenly across the top, taking care not to disturb the top of the panna cotta if it’s only just set. Return the panna cotta to the fridge for at least 1 hour more before serving to allow the ganache to firm up. Serve with fresh strawberries.
*Note: The brand of gelatine I use calls for it to be added to hot liquid. If your gelatine needs to be added to cold liquid, just chill the Irish cream beforehand and follow the instructions for how to use the gelatine on the packet.
I received a bottle of Coole Swan to sample. All views are my own.