Baked Sunday Mornings: ‘Drowning’ in a coffee dessert

I can’t remember which cooking maven (it was either Ina or Nigella) I first saw make affogato. But I never forgot this dessert — as simple as they come — where piping hot coffee or freshly brewed espresso is poured over a creamy mound of freezing cold ice cream. The version I saw used vanilla ice cream, and the dessert seemed a perfect meeting of hot and cold, light and dark.

Soon after, I made my own affogato with vanilla ice cream and deep, smoky Italian-roast coffee. Eating it with a spoon, I got bites of still-frozen ice cream and sips of still-hot coffee, then it became a melding of coffee enriched with melting sweet vanilla-cream.

“Affogato,” in Italian means “to drown,” an alluringly deadly command I’ve taken seriously since discovering it. I’ve drowned dark chocolate gelato and coffee ice cream. Visiting my mother, I once took a scoop of black walnut ice cream she had in her freezer and promptly poured leftover strong coffee from her pot all over it. “You have weird tastes,” she remarked. Affogato might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it. I’ve ordered it off menus when available, particularly being taken with one from a Napa gelato establishment where I chose pistachio gelato as my drowning victim.

It seems, to me, to be a delightful “light” dessert, perfect for afternoons where coffee and “a little something” are needed for a pick-me-up. It could be an easy evening cap to a meal, too, with decaffeinated coffee or espresso as your pleasure. An elegant “made” dessert (for those who don’t like to make dessert) to serve.

However you have it, if you like coffee and ice cream, do try it. But try it with really good coffee (I picked an imported Italian espresso for my latest rendering of affogato) and quality gelato/ice cream if you are going to give it a go. I was so pleased to see it on the recipe roster for Baked Sunday Mornings, and was willing to again go a-drowning for the Vanilla Bean Affogato from “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (2008).

Remembering the crunchy/chewy bits of pistachio and black walnuts in some of my nutty experiences with affogato, I chose (took the easy route and bought some rather than make it here) some vanilla-almond ice cream, which is scooped into individual glasses, cups or dishes and kept in the freezer until the espresso is ready.

For the espresso, a vanilla bean is to be scraped into the hot coffee, but for my version, I was lacking vanilla beans and had a full jar of vanilla bean paste, which is also packed with vanilla bean goodness. About one tablespoon of the paste is said to equal one vanilla bean. I put a little less than that in my brewed espresso.

Since I had some almond in my ice cream, I wanted to carry the almond theme a little further with a sweet/crunchy embellishment. I had some amaretti cookies from the same Italian import store where I got my espresso, and decided to crumble those atop my affogato dessert.

It’s easy-does-it when pouring the espresso over the ice cream…it can splatter a bit, and you can also drown too far (is that a thing?). A nice mid-level of espresso, with the ice cream still crowning at the top, allows a balance of both pleasures.

It’s recommended to allow the ice cream to melt a little before diving in…good call…I agree with the cookbook authors’ observation of how the ice cream settles in the bottom — it was a treat to dip it out (with those nuts and bits of cookie adding some texture) with my little spoon. The vanilla in the coffee made the cup of affogato even more flavorful, aromatic and sensory. Something this good and this easy should not be missed.

Blogger’s Note: For the recipe, go to Baked Sunday Mornings

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