Everybody has been to one of those dinner parties. After the guests finish the main course and the host clears plates away, out comes the dessert and coffee. I like to imagine that somewhere, some inventive Italian decided that there was no good reason to keep the two separate. Why not have coffee and dessert in the same dish? And that was the birth of the affogato.
Inventive flights of fancy aside, affogato is a perfectly respectable dessert these days. “Affogato” literally means “drowned” in Italian, and that is exactly what happens to the ice cream in this scenario. In most recipes, ice cream is scooped into a cold bowl and fresh, good-quality espresso is poured over it. Some recipes call for other add-ins or toppings, but they are almost never necessary. Affogato is heavenly all on it own.
As far as food trends go, this one is pretty heavily associated with the 1990s Italian resurgence in North America. While Starbucks was establishing itself on every corner and pushing its espresso-based agenda, the food scene was full of people serving pesto, sundried tomatoes, and gelato. Affogato is a natural extension of that. If you have gelato and espresso, and you offer a dessert menu, why not offer both of them together?
All in all, this is a luxurious, elegant dessert. Affogato reminds me of sultry summer evenings spent wandering around a charming downtown. This dessert definitely earned its rightful place among my favorites.
What kind of ingredients do I use for affogato?
Affogato is one of those dishes that is so simple that the quality of the ingredients becomes very important. At its most basic, affogato is just espresso and ice cream, so you want both of those to be high-quality to make the best dessert possible.
There are a few different factors to consider when choosing an ice cream for affogato:
- Ice cream type – Traditionally, affogato should be made with gelato. However, a high-quality ice cream should make a pretty satisfactory dessert. Be careful with using a lower quality “frozen dairy dessert” instead of ice cream. These can often contain fillers that won’t hold up once you add the hot espresso to the ice cream.
- Flavor – Purists will insist that only vanilla-flavored gelato should be used in affogato. However, so many flavors go well with coffee that there isn’t any reason to try unconventional flavors. Some of my favourite affogatos have been made with other flavors of gelato. Consider chocolate, hazelnut, coconut, or amaretto flavors for a standout affogato. You can even try a sorbetto if you would like to experiment with fruit flavors and coffee.
- Add-ins – If you want to add in extras, like chocolate shavings or toasted coconut, will they get lost in the bowl? You do not want to clutter a dessert that is, at its heart, so simple. At the same time, if you are adding to a recipe, you will want the additions to be noticeable and add something to the dish. An affogato is not froyo. It really doesn’t benefit from having a half a pound of candy added to an otherwise a complex, grown-up dessert.
When it comes to changing simple recipes like the one for affogato, I like to follow something like Coco Chanel’s famous advice for accessorising an outfit. I think of everything I want to add to a recipe, and then before I finish the plate, take something off. This usually lets high-quality ingredients really shine.
As far as choosing a coffee for an affogato, it is important to choose a mellow, sweet coffee that pairs well with dairy. While we traditionally use espresso when making an affogato, brewed coffee or coffee made in a Moka pot can work. However, I don’t find brewed coffee or Moka pot coffee to be adequate because they generally lack the richness of espresso. I usually use a sweet, medium roast espresso blend and make the coffee using my home espresso machine.
How to make an affogato
So, you have chosen your coffee and your gelato, and you have your toppings (if any) selected. Now what? It is time to make your affogato.
For each serving of affogato, you will need:
1 to 2 scoops of the ice cream of your choice
1 to 2 espresso shots (or 1 to 2 ounces of another style of coffee)
Added toppings of your choice (nuts, chocolate, coconut, or liquers are all popular choices)
Scoop your ice cream into a decorative bowl using an ice cream scoop.
If presentation is important to you, you may want to let your ice cream sit out of the freezer for a few minutes to soften before you scoop. That will let you get those beautiful, round scoops that you see in the pages of Bon Appetit.
However, if you don’t have an ice cream scoop or you’re like me and you’re all thumbs with the darn thing, affogato is very forgiving. The espresso melts the ice cream into aesthetically pleasing forms whether or not you’ve scooped the ice cream beautifully.
Add your toppings.
While I didn’t add anything to the affogato pictured in the previous step, I have added things to affogatos before.
Here, you can see I added a spoonful of dark chocolate chips and a spoonful of shredded coconut on top of the gelato. I chose those flavours judiciously because they both go so well with coffee.
Pour the hot coffee over the ice cream
This is where the magic happens. Pull your espresso shots and pour them lovingly over that ice cream. The ice cream should immediately start to melt, and it always emphasises the crema on the espresso.
If you decide to use another style of coffee for your affogato, make sure it is as fresh and as hot as possible.
In short, affogato is an elegant, sophisticated dessert that is really quite simple to make. Whether you serve it after a dinner party or as a mid-afternoon treat on a hot summer day, it hits the spot.