In Appreciation of Gelato + Salted Butterscotch Bourbon Affogato

I had never heard of an affogato before I started this blog. (I can almost hear the audible gasp of some of you over there…) Honestly I would have thought that it was an American invention to help make sidewalk cafes sound more Italian. I was in Italy, during the national gelato festival in Florence no less, and this dessert never crossed my radar. Plus Microsoft Word continues to angrily underline the use of “affogato” each time I type it. Must not be a real thing, right? So you can imagine my surprise when I came across it a few times in the blog-o-sphere (especially the affogato in this epic pumpkin round-up), looked it up, and realized that it was a real thing!

I’m so glad that it checked out because it certainly sounded like a dessert right up my alley. I am always a fan of combining as many of the basic tastes as possible in one bite. And an affogato is a scoop of silky gelato drowned in hot, bitter espresso and eaten as quickly as possible. Sweet and bitter, together at last in a dessert. So if you’re a fan of the flavor of coffee, welcome to the bright side.

The simplicity of this dessert combined with the Italian origin, decadent nature, and complete novelty makes it utterly European. The best kind of feeling to have this summer when you need an excuse to eat a sweet treat. But when it comes to gelato versus ice cream, you might be thinking…hmmm….

What is the difference between gelato and ice cream? Well the ice cream we have come to know and love in America is typically made with a bunch of fat, by way of heavy cream, egg yolks, and a load of air (called overrun) whipped into it. It’s essentially a custard that is blasted with air pockets and frozen in time. This creates a pretty heavy, but at the same time fluffy treat. It also holds a scoop shape considerably well and the fat and air pockets make it resistant to freeze-thaw cycles of your home freezer.

Gelato is quite different. Not only does it conjure up visions of stone-covered Florence streets and family gatherings by the Amalfi coast, but it is created rather differently. Gelato is traditionally prepared with no egg yolks, minimal overrun, and a fraction of the fat of ice cream. This gives gelato certain properties that differ from ice cream. Rather than a thick custard, gelato is more of a thin mixture created with cream and milk. So you now might be thinking— “But I always thought of gelato as creamier than ice cream and rich in flavor…but you’re telling me it’s thinner than ice cream…” My response to that would be “Now this is where the air comes in!”

The air incorporated into ice cream occurs during the churning process. These air pockets, along with the fat, prevent ice crystals from becoming supersized which would ruin the mouthfeel of the treat. Think crunchy rather than creamy. However, these air pockets are a bit of an oxymoron because they also prevent the ice cream from attaining that silky quality that is reminiscent of gelato. Gelato does not incorporate nearly as much air into the unfrozen mixture. That lack of air keeps gelato denser even with less fat. And, I think it also makes flavors in gelato more intense than ice cream because there’s less “stuff” (air) in the mixture to take up room.

Bonus? The espresso in an affogato increases the temperature of the gelato which creates an even richer flavor by the spoonful.

This no-churn ice cream (and most no-churn ice creams) is a cross between a traditional gelato and an American ice cream. There is no preparation of custard using egg yolks, but there is quite a bit of fat used. The lack of air incorporation presents a challenge for creating a smooth mixture, but the excess fat from heavy cream prevents large ice crystal formation. And voila! We can pretend that we’re half Italian with this all-homemade affogato.

Salted Butterscotch Bourbon Affogato

Makes ~ 1 pint

For the Butterscotch Sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
¼ cup butter (if using salted, reduce salt as necessary later on)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, plus more to taste
For the no-churn ice cream
¾ cup heavy cream
Butterscotch sauce (see above)
½ tablespoon bourbon
For serving
1 shot of espresso per serving
A big pinch of sea salt per serving

1. Begin by preparing the butterscotch sauce. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the brown sugar, cream, and ¾ teaspoon salt to the saucepan. Whisk until combined.
2. Bring to a simmer and cook for about five or so minutes taking care to whisk occasionally in order to prevent burning.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract and stir to combine. Carefully taste the mixture. If you desire more vanilla flavor, add more at a ½ teaspoon at a time. If you feel that you need more salt, add more at a ¼ teaspoon at a time. I ended up at 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, but tailor this to your taste! Keep in mind that from the freezer, the vanilla will be slightly less pronounced.
4. Set the butterscotch aside and let cool to room temperature.
5. Once the sauce has cooled, prepare the no-churn ice cream. Put the heavy cream (¾ cup) into a large bowl. Whisk (either by a handheld beater or a strong arm) the cream until it is slightly thickened. Fold in the butterscotch sauce and bourbon gently until combined.
6. Pour the mixture into a pint container or a loaf pan and cover. Freeze until firm, overnight.
7. To serve, put one large scoop of the ice cream into a chilled bowl/glass. Sprinkle a big pinch of flaky sea salt over the scoop. Pour one shot of espresso over the ice cream, and eat immediately. Enjoy!

*Optional: Sprinkle biscotti cookies or some other delicious inclusion of choice on top of your ice cream for some textural joy while you spoon and slurp with dessert up.



  1. WHOA GIRL!!! I loooooove affogatos. One of my favs is at Capogiro’s in Philly, and I get it with their bacio flavor (chocolate with little chunks of hazelnut). SO GOOD. This no-churn gelato sounds amaaaaaaaazing. I need to try this asap. In my research about gelato vs ice cream, I’ve also read that gelato has a more intense flavor due to the lower fat content, because fat actually “sucks up” flavor. Is that right? Either way, gelato is my soulmate. Love this post!!!

    • Kelsey
      June 8

      Sara–right on! Fat does suck up some extra flavor (especially if it’s aromatic like vanilla). Thanks for the comment :)

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