The summer I worked at a Brooklyn ice cream-coffee shop, my favorite shifts were the opening ones: I would walk the mile to the store at 6:30 AM, do the little opening tasks like making coffee and making sure there were enough napkins to last the shift. Then, I'd put a Velvet Underground record on (I said it was in Brooklyn).
And then, I'd pull myself a shot of espresso, pour it over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and eat it for breakfast, chasing it with a banana: Affogato!
My coworker Joan was my best friend that summer, and when we weren't listening to the Velvet Underground we were listening to Fleetwood Mac (Rumours) or Paul Simon (Graceland). But there were always affogatos, almost every day, the coffee melting the ice cream as soon as it hit it and pooling up in the bittersweet velvety gold way that it does.
Affogato means "drowned" in Italian—vanilla ice cream drowned in strong espresso. Joan and I were both drowning a little that summer, Joan in missing her native California and the documentary-making she wanted to be doing instead of scooping ice cream; and me in being alone between working at the ice cream store and working a babysitting job and working an internship.
We both missed our friends with steady 9-to-5s, and both needed the steadiness of friends and rituals to pull us out of welling up every time "Landslide" came onto the record player. The ritual of coffee—making it, drinking it, for and with each other—every day was more comforting than I think either of us knew.
We sold a lot of affogatos that summer—we never didn't recommend them to customers—but we also wondered why no one we knew was making them at home. If you have ice cream within reach (yes, you do) and a way to make espresso (like a moka pot), an affogato is very much within reach. About five minutes within reach, as a matter of fact.
Here's how to make it part of your ritual:
Make a shot of espresso (or make some very strong coffee, if espresso's not in the cards, the way Amanda Hesser grew up eating affogatos), and pour it over a scoop of gelato or ice cream. You're done! Grab a spoon and get the best bite, the first one—where the ice cream is still cold, firm ice cream and the espresso is still hot and black.
Gild the lily by...
- Using a different flavor of ice cream. Customers at the ice cream store would occasionally ask for things like Earl Grey or strawberry ice cream in their affogatos—of which I'm a little dubious. However, I can say from experience that a milk chocolate ice cream is excellent in an affogato, as is, surprisingly, coconut. I also suspect hazelnut or pistachio ice cream (not the bright green kind) would be good.
- Or you could toast a handful of chopped nuts and sprinkle them over the top.
- Or spike the espresso with a little booze. Frangelico or amaretto or nocino would all sing.
- Set a square of chocolate in the glass with the ice cream to be melted when you pour the espresso over.
- Make a cup of strong, hot tea—Earl Grey! Matcha! Chai!—and pour that over the ice cream instead of espresso.
And if you need a soundtrack to do it by, I can't recommend Fleetwood Mac enough.
Are you an affogato devotee? Tell us about it—or how you jazz them up—in the comments.