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Affagato in the Yarra Valley

"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." John Quilter

It's my birthday today, but it's not a special one, indeed it's somewhat forgettable, and it's also Monday, so there's not much celebrating going on here other than a special bottle of riesling with dinner - which, alas is leftovers. Well not really alas, the leftovers are home-made pizza which was very nice and which reheats pretty well. Supplemented by a salad of lettuce from my friend Monika's bounteous garden.

No the celebrations happened yesterday, when we went with our friends to the Yarra Valley for lunch. Well actually you could say it was outer suburbia - just beyond the last houses of suburban streets, and a longish walk from our friends' home. But we drove of course.

The picture above is not from our lunch, because I forgot to take a picture, but it's a very similar presentation of one of my very favourite desserts. Affogato. Hence the title of today's post.

But first - lunch. The venue was Vue on Halcyon a vineyard, which now makes most of its money from weddings. Well that's what several of the Yarra Valley vineyards do these days. Because it's such a beautiful part of the world - see below.

If you visit the website you might be forgiven for thinking that weddings were the only thing, but not so, for they also have a restaurant at weekends that serves breakfast and lunch. The venue is large, spacious, perhaps a little bare and austere, but with that view, whose complaining. And the food is very good. I suppose a little unadventurous, but who needs adventure if everyday Italian oriented is done well. I did start out with the right intentions and took pictures of our shared arancini and croquettes, both with a sriracha aioli sauce, that we had as an entrée. They may look similar but they tasted of themselves - tomatoes for the arancini and leeks for the croquettes , and they were light, not stodgy as such things often are. But then the phone was put away and all was forgotten in the pleasure of what we were eating, and the conversation.

I meant to say that initially I thought that this was one of Shannon Bennett's outposts. He used to have one at the Heide Art Gallery, and also at the airport, but I think these may no longer exist. And this café/restaurant is certainly not part of that empire, which I have now discovered is very possibly dead anyway. But that's a whole other gossipy story that won't be gone into here.

Anyway - lunch - pretty much perfect, venue gorgeous, service incredibly friendly including a long chat with the winemaker Dean Rackley. We did not have a bottle of wine with the meal, but had a tasting of most of their wines, served during the meal - which was plenty and though it cost - I think $12.00 each - that, after all, is the cost of one glass or corkage - well some of it - in any other restaurant that allows you to take your own wine. Then the icing on the cake - as we were leaving our waitress ran after us and handed us the opened, but around 3/4 full bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon, which had been used for wine tasting, because it was Sunday and would not be used later. Has that ever happened to you? Five stars for top service.

But affogato. Three of us chose this for dessert. The other options were petits fours and a panacotta. David just had a coffee. I love affogato. I first had it way back when, during a Melbourne Wine and Food Festival we attended a half-day session on coffee with the lovely Max and Helen, at which we were served an affogato. Such a simple thing but so, so delicious.

"Like most good things, the best one you’ll ever have is probably the first one you downed." says Juan-Carlo Thomas in The Guardian. Well I certainly do remember that first one, which when I think about it must put it in a very rare category of dishes whose first taste one remembers. I could count them on the fingers of one hand. I mean what could be simpler than pouring hot espresso over cold ice cream? Affogato means drowned and that's what you do - you drown the ice cream in hot coffee. It's a match made in heaven.

So who invented it and when? Well really nobody knows. It sounds like a question such as who first thought of pastry? Such an obvious thing. They do think the late twentieth century though - for affogato that is, and obviously, in Italy. Why did they wait this long I wonder? One writer assumes they had to wait for the invention of the espresso machine, but other than that, I see no reason why it could not have been well before. You could have done it with a long black after all. 1884 is the date for the first patent for an espresso kind of machine, but it wasn't until 1903/4 that the design was improved enough to be commercialised although it was really not until Gaggia's machine after World War II that we really had espresso. And not until the 1990s that affogato became a thing.

The classic affogato is just ice cream with a shot of hot espresso poured over it. Purists will say the ice cream has to be fior di latte (flower of the milk) ice cream which is made with pure, organic high quality milk and no egg yolks. Fior di latte is also used for that special creamy kind of mozzarella - the kind where you break into the ball to release a creamy interior. More usually though for an affogato the ice cream is vanilla. Whatever ice cream you use though, it takes just a few minutes to make - the time it takes to make the espresso, and put the ice cream in your glass. And yes, it has to be espresso. I don't think you should mess with that, although I did see some bloggers using instant! A huge no no I think.

"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." John Quilter

I did look at a few recipes - well you can hardly call them recipes - and the only controversy I saw was whether the cup, glass, bowl, into which you put the ice cream had to be chilled as well. Some dictated that it should be. Others thought not as they thought the ice cream should melt a bit. I think that's a personal choice myself.

The version that we had included a shot of frangelico. The three components were presented separately. You just pour the coffee and the frangelico over the ice cream. And eat straight away. This is a fairly common variation, although the liqueur could be amaretto, Khalua, Bailey's Irish cream ... Take your pick I suppose.

And the next most common thing would be to serve with something crunchy, like crushed biscuits or nuts on top. Or vary the ice cream, as Donna Hay does here. I think the ice cream is caramel and her crunchy contribution is churros. Biscotti seem to be a common accompaniment but honestly there isn't really a need for anything extra.

“I think it will remain classic. It uses two ingredients that everyone loves, ice cream and coffee; there’s no reason for it to change." Emerson Nascimento

But of course, people do fiddle with it. So here are two of those: Frozen affogato - from HeinStirred. This is really a coffee granita, mixed with a vanilla ice cream - well the granita is topped with the ice cream and then more granita is sprinkled on top. I guess you could pour your Frangelico over that if you fancied it. Not really the same thing at all really, but interesting.

Then Jamie came up with the idea of a Leftovers affogato. For this you put some leftover dessert in a bowl - he suggests Christmas pudding, chocolate mousse, tarts, pie, crumble, anything really. On top of this you put your ice cream and pour the coffee over the lot. Scatter crushed biscuits on top. Rather more of a dessert proper this one, and I think it's something that might work with some things - Christmas pudding, but not others - chocolate mousse? - frozen on the left, leftover on the right.

A step further on from Jamie's leftovers version is custardo - something supposedly invented in a London coffee shop and which looks rather more like a drink than a dessert. Fundamentally you replace the ice cream with custard. And I have to say this sounds more like a TikTok thing than a coffee shop invention. Morwenna Ferrier of The Guardian wrote about it:

"When I made custardo, there was nothing decent left in the shop, so I used cheap own-brand custard, which tasted as though it had once been in the vicinity of vanilla, but not made actual contact. Rather than drowning, the custard sort of belly flops into the coffee with a special sort of gracelessness. But I had it for breakfast, and it works. What should have been egregious as a pairing was, in fact, as rich and thick as Theresa May’s cabinet, the custard cutting through the espresso’s bitterness."

And I guess Yotam Ottolenghi's Baked custard cream affogato with coconut and hazelnut meringue goes one step further again. This time you make a baked custard and then pour the coffee over the top (or not as he says). The fancy meringue provides the crunch factor.

I don't know about this. Whilst hot coffee poured over ice cold ice cream is sort of obvious and absolutely delicious, I don't know about it with custard. But then I guess it would really just end up as a coffee flavoured custard.

And a final aside. Way back now, in 2014, the Sydney ice cream shop called Cow and Moon won the World ice cream championship with their Mandorla affogata ice cream, which is described thus:

"The gelato combined caramelised almonds sourced from Italy with single origin-roasted coffee shots on a Madagascan vanilla base."

They are still there and it's still on their menu so next time you are in Sydney you could give it a try.


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