affogato dessert with ice cream and biscuits on the side

Simplicity is often king when it comes to food. Back when I was cheffing, however, people paid for complexity because they didn’t want something that looked like it could be made at home. For this reason restaurants often use elaborate, obscure ingredients, piled up loftily to give an impression of superiority.

What most chefs eventually realise, though, that it’s the simple classics that have the strongest impact on their audiences, which is certainly the case with Italian food. Although there are plenty of Italian classics to pick from, there are few more impressive than the humble affogato. It’s almost the definition of “minimum effort for maximum reward”, which just adds to the fall-in-love happiness that this dish delivers every time it’s served.

All that’s involved is drenching a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream with a beautiful cup of strong coffee – hence the name “affogato”, which means “drowned”. It’s the ultimate rule-of-opposites dish, made with deep, dark-roast espresso and simple white vanilla ice cream – a yin-yang culinary affair, resulting in a moment of instant bliss. It’s easy to marvel at the sheer effortlessness of it all with that first spoonful, and wonder why everything good in life can’t be this easy.


Now, a cautionary note should be added here – when a dish is this simple, people (or, more often than not, chefs) tend to mess around with it. This can be disastrous, but it can also work wonders. In fact, although I would usually warn against tampering with classics and administer punishments where appropriate, in the affogato’s case, I’m prepared to make allowances.

The dish almost screams out for a little bit of attention, and as the ice cream and hot coffee are both smooth, the whole thing could benefit little texture and contrast, meaning that crunch is your friend here. In my recipe I make a pecan and roast coffee bean brittle using lightly roasted Arabica beans, but something easier would be just as effective. Roasted almonds, hazelnuts, amaretti or biscotti biscuits, crushed and sprinkled on top, would go down equally well.

Jamie uses leftover dessert in his affogato recipe – the perfect way to use up Christmas pudding, chocolate mousse, tart, pie, or anything else you have to hand. You can use cups, glasses or little bowls to make this one – just place the leftovers into the bottom of each, add the ice cream, and pour over the coffee. Genius!

The last important note on this is about the coffee. Very simply, don’t use the instant stuff – it just doesn’t have the depth of flavour needed to cope with the ice cream. I would suggest proper espresso, as I love the crema that forms on the top, but strong coffee from a stovetop mocha pot or cafetiere will do the job nicely.

It’s that simple. Grab your ice cream, your coffee, your crunch, and surrender to it.

About the author

John Quilter

John Quilter is an entrepreneur and broadcaster with over 20 years experience as a restaurateur and chef.

John Quilter