The best coffee break is an Affogato

Affogato means “drowned” in Italian, and you can drown just about any ice cream. Fior di latte and cream are most popular in Italy, al...


Affogato means “drowned” in Italian, and you can drown just about any ice cream. Fior di latte and cream are most popular in Italy, although vanilla and chocolate are also great. Dulce de leche would be wonderful, with its caramelized milk, as would the bitterness of the cherry amaretto. Pistachio is a welcome change from the unfolding highway of routine. Pisticci, a trattoria in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, drowns a tartufo – a bomb made of vanilla and chocolate ice cream with a maraschino cherry in the middle, all enclosed in a hard chocolate shell – in espresso. The chef, Edmundo Garzón, told me he serves 50-60 a week. “The secret is the coffee,” he said. “Espresso coffee. Very fresh, a hit. The double blow is too strong. Good coffee.”

But you don’t even need to use coffee in your affogato. According to Tuscan food writer Emiko Davies, in Italy, a affogato could be simple cream gelato drowned in chocolate or cherry syrup, or hazelnut gelato drowned in Marsala. “I even saw a gelateria in Turin that makes one with lemon raspberry sorbet drowned in beer,” she said. A sgroppino, a scoop of lemon sorbet drowned in prosecco, could be considered affogatois the Venetian cousin. In “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan, a recipe for “The Chimney Sweep’s Gelato” calls for sprinkling ice cream with finely ground espresso eggs and drowning it in scotch or bourbon.

Nick Larsen agreed that the evening drink he makes regularly at home – a float of salted caramel ice cream and condensed milk drowned in a cold brew – could be considered a affogato. “It’s just not hot-mining,” he said. The real stuff he keeps for Sugar Hill Creamery, the ice cream shops in Harlem that he runs with his wife, Petrouchka. I had a lot of feedback affogato, each time swapping the flavor of the ice cream according to my mood. The savory buzz of the malted vanilla ice cream brought out the intricacies of the espresso. The coffee ice cream with turmeric and ginger candy had hints of masala chai, warming me with its electricity. Plain vanilla provided the cream and caffeine duvet that kept me coming back for more.

Hallie Meyer, the owner of Caffè Panna in Gramercy Park, said her shop receives a regular crowd of solo shoppers like me in the afternoon. They sit down, order a affogato and leaves. “It’s almost mature to have an espresso poured over your ice cream, you know?” she said. I asked Meyer to guide me through his ideal affogato. That’s it: a clear glass, so you can see the ice cream drowning. No eggs in the ice cream base, “because I want to taste the dairy,” she said. The espresso should reach half to three quarters of the height of the spoon. And in addition, its piece de resistance: a spoonful of panna, Italian for “cream”.

The best affogato for me it’s the one where you can’t tell where the feathery edges of the melting ice cream begin and where the tawny mousse that sits on the espresso ends. One of the creamiest affogati I have never had was at the Gran Caffè L’Aquila in Philadelphia. I asked for a ball of fior di latte, which I often appreciate in a affogato for its pure dairy flavor. The barista pulled out the espresso and then had to walk through the cafe, to where the ice was exposed, in order to pick up the fior di latte. This walk was the perfect weather for the espresso to cool very slightly, which meant the ice cream didn’t melt too quickly on contact with the coffee. The foam remained thick and smooth – or was it fior di latte?

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