Italy Week

The Affogato is the Lazy, Two-Ingredient Dessert We Should've Been Making All This Time

April  7, 2016

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!

Step one. Photo by Ashley McLaughlin

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.

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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.

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“I like my cold brew pretty strong anyway, but for this I would add very little water, then heat and pour over the gelato or ice cream.”
— dixie

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.

Affogatos with Joan.

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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • dixie
  • Sandra
  • LB
  • Penny I. Evans
    Penny I. Evans
  • ClaudiaCardenuto
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


dixie July 20, 2017
Just to clarify...I still use my old Toddy system to make cold brew. Haven't tried bottled.
dixie July 20, 2017
I have made Affogato using my Nespresso machine, but even better is a really strong cold brew. I like my cold brew pretty strong anyway, but for this I would add very little water, then heat and pour over the gelato or ice cream.
Sandra August 16, 2016
Love this idea. I have a Nespresso machine. I am def·i·nite·ly going to try this. I am stuck on my Café Solo Doble.
LB July 11, 2016
Was this Van Leeuwen, perchance? I live about a block away from the one on Bergen and the whole scene sounds awfully familiar!
Caroline L. July 11, 2016
You're spot on, LB!
Penny I. May 13, 2016
not a coffee drinker whatsoever-i tried, i really did. however, i can still drop a tear or twenty when i hear "landslide". pure joy.
ClaudiaCardenuto May 13, 2016
DYI Affogato Parties are always a hit at my place. They can pick caramels, chocolate, nuts to go with it, not to mention different kinds of liquor. A Nespresso machine and different coffe flavor is the center piece... Fun times.
April May 13, 2016
Salted caramel gelato is also lovely in an affogato. Yum!
JanieMac May 13, 2016
Straight off a flight from Ireland to Rome, then a train to Florence, dragging our suitcases, we stopped for a late lunch in a small restaurant. It was the perfect salad followed by a surprise dessert - our introduction to Affogato! Just fabulous. Must get back into making them after lunch.
Chuck48 May 13, 2016
When you add booze to spike up espresso, try adding some Grappa and call the drink a Caffe Corretto but I would not suggest add the gelato to the grappa infused drink. BTW, any liquor supplemented espresso is a caffe corretto, untill you add the gelato. Then it's an affogato.
kimikoftokyo April 10, 2016
I have this all the time. I put pitashios on top or just really strong espresso. It's so much better than any other dessert.
weshook April 8, 2016
The first time I had advocate it was topped with chocolate covered espresso beans. I've only made it at home since then. Only with vanilla ice cream.
weshook April 8, 2016
Um, that was supposed to say affogato. Tablet auto corrected.
Ali S. April 8, 2016
cucina D. April 8, 2016
Love this article and your story (big fan of Brooklyn and Velvet Underground). My Italian immigrant parents brought me and my brothers up on ONLY affogatos, I never tried other ice cream until going to college! My favorite is the traditional vanilla gelato but have been known to secretly use hazelnut gelato on on occasion. My father loved adding liqueurs to flavor his that I have adopted and still do today, thanks for reminding me of my memories with affogatos and famiglia ❤️
Naomi M. April 7, 2016
I spice up the espresso in my Affigato with my family's "proprietary" spice blend - cardamom, mace and nutmeg, which we keep pre-ground and use in sweats and savoury. Cinnamon and cloves are also lovely - but, remember a small amount goes a long way!
Kat April 7, 2016
beautiful! thanks for sharing!
carswell April 7, 2016
I can attest to the fact that salted caramel ice cream is excellent in affogato as an alternative to a good vanilla.
Caroline L. April 7, 2016
Loribeth T. April 7, 2016
Also, a butter pecan ice cream affogato if you're southern! I also like to splash a little port over good vanilla ice cream in the evenings as a desert.