The first time I tasted an affogato – a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla gelato – I was frankly shocked.
It was at a time when I was exploring the most complex pastries, ones with up to ten different components and taking days to assemble. Having been immersed in the depths of snooty techniques, I am a touch embarrassed to say that I didn’t give this humble dessert any credit at first glance. “Just espresso and gelato?” I dismissed.
But you see, this is what happens when I get a little snooty: life has a funny way of inspiring me with the humblest things just to set me straight. The hot espresso melted the outer most layer of the vanilla gelato, creating a delicate coffee frost, which held onto my tongue for a miniscule moment longer than the gelato, which melted away a moment before. It was glorious. And so it went, bite-by-bite, I scraped the icy coffee off the outsides of the gelato, rolling it around until it was done.
When Phillips challenged me to use their Saeco GranBaristo Avanti machine to create a new coffee dessert, I immediately remembered the affogato with affection, and matched it with my other favourite Italian coffee dessert, tiramisu. The creaminess of the mascarpone semifreddo would mimic perfectly the gelato, the ladyfinger would add a touch of texture, and the GranBaristo Avanti would allow me to customize the shot of espresso and intensify it. All of this, topped with a shaving of dark chocolate, would marry the flavours I love in a tiramisu and the textures in an affogato. I hope you love this, but if you don’t, just go back to espresso and gelato, for as we all know, there is beauty in the simplest things.
For the ladyfingers:
I adapted this recipe from Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook, because I do love him and I happened to find his cookbook on my bookshelf.
½ cup sifted cake flour
2/3 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar)
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3 large eggs, separated
½ tsp good vanilla extract
¼ cup coffee liquor
Preheat the oven to 350F
Sift the flour, half the sugar and salt together. Whisk the egg whites with the remaining sugar until stiff peaks. Place into a large bowl. Whisk the yolks and vanilla until the yolks are lemon coloured. Fold into the whites gently until partially combined. Sift the flour mixture onto the egg mixture in thirds and fold gently until just combined.
Pour batter into a piping bag with a ½” piping tip and pipe a 9” x 9” square onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 mins or until deep golden brown on the top. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.
When the cake is cool, cut 0.5” from each side to create an 8 “x 8” square. Line an 8” x 8” pan with parchment so it hangs off the edges. Place the ladyfinger square into the bottom and brush the cake with coffee liquor. Allow to rest, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.
For the Mascarpone semifreddo:
¾ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
2 large egg whites
250gr mascarpone cheese
seeds of 1 vanilla bean
250ml heavy whipping cream
Boil the sugar and water in a medium pot until it reaches 235F (112C).
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks. Try to time this so that the sugar syrup comes to temperature as the whites come to stiff peaks. If the sugar takes longer, then lower the speed of the whites to keep them moving. If the eggs take longer, keep the sugar on a low heat.
While whisking on medium, add the sugar in a slow stream. When all the sugar is added, increase the speed to high and whisk until the mixture comes to room temperature.
Whisk in the mascarpone and vanilla bean seeds. Separately, whisk the whipping cream until stiff peaks and fold into the mascarpone. Pour into the previously prepared 8” x 8” pan with the ladyfinger base. Level the top so it is smooth and freeze for a minimum of 6 hours and up to 1 month.
You can keep this frozen and cut portions as you need them with a hot knife. This makes about 15 slices.
To assemble (per slice):
3-5 gr dark chocolate
1 shot of hot espresso
With a microplane, grate the dark chocolate on top of a slice of semifreddo. Pour a shot of strong espresso into a shallow bowl and place the semifreddo in the middle to serve.
Alternately, place a slice of semifreddo in a shallow bowl and grate the chocolate on top. Give each guest a shot of espresso to drizzle over the semifreddo tableside to serve.
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