ICE CREAM AND coffee are, in theory, diametrically opposed. One is sweet and cold, like the tears of some divine ice princess, and the other, blistering and brisk as lava.
And when you are a child, coffee holds no appeal. Coffee, particularly dark espresso, is the purview of adults, those tall, lumbering creatures who hoard all the money and also like salads for some reason. Whereas, ice cream is the nectar of the gods, your reason for living and the only inducement in the world that will get you to eat a salad at all.
Ah, the shortsightedness of youth! It’s not until you get older that you realize the real benefit of being a grown-up: You can do almost anything you’d like, including pouring that cup of joe right over a scoop of ice cream.
This concoction is called an affogato, which means “drowned” in Italian. The identity of the originator of the affogato is lost to time — some mad genius whose inner child cried out for dessert, even as his system cried out for caffeine. But most likely, this anonymous culinary magician was an actual Italian, the affogato emerging from the heady world of the great boot’s dark roasted trattorias and cafes.
And while most affogatos you’ll find in American coffee shops use vanilla, to be strictly Italian, the ice cream should be fior di latte (flower of milk). The term refers to mozzarella made with cow’s milk instead of buffalo (not the product you’re after) or, confusingly, a delicate, gelatolike concoction made of nothing but the finest cow’s milk, sugar, sometimes cream and a bit of starch for texture. It might look like vanilla, but fior di latte is milk-flavored ice cream, subtle and sophisticated, with no additional flavorings or even eggs added, and it has the flavor of a frozen, whipped, sweetened fresh cheese.
The quality of fior di latte gelato is dependent entirely on the quality of the milk used, so for you dairy snobs out there, this is the ultimate unadulterated ice cream. Also, to be strictly Italian, the coffee must be an espresso shot of dark, robust Italian roast made in an espresso machine or moka pot. Whether this is your preferred coffee profile of a morning (it is not, for me, but let’s not fight about it), it works beautifully married with ice cream. And an affogato should be consumed quickly, before the ice cream has a chance to completely melt, to get the full effect.
Of course, I am not in any way a purist, and the scoop of vanilla you’ll find in most local coffee shops is a perfectly lovely American riff on the affogato. Any gelateria also will make you an affogato with the flavor of your choice (I suggest cinnamon or hazelnut). Shug’s in Pike Place will make you a classic version or an entirely cold affogato with cold brew, to which you can add a dash of Frangelico, Baileys or Kahlua. Which, since you are a grown-up, is perfectly acceptable.
Once you’ve ordered, take a moment, if you like, to ponder the existential question of whether the coffee is melting the ice cream, or the ice cream is cooling the coffee. You can also fight all day about whether an affogato is a dessert or a beverage, but by the time you’ve decided, the gelato will have dissolved, and the magic of that oh-so-ephemeral moment of hot meets cold, the ultimate fire-and-ice romance, will be over. And if you use caffeinated coffee, it is also the ideal dessert for evenings when you, as adults, might want to stay awake for an hour or two after dinner.