My spouse calls any dessert topping "icing." Whether it's a dusting of powdered sugar, a drizzle of syrup, or a thick swirl of frosting, he has precisely one word for what's sitting on that cupcake. "What's the difference?" he'll shrug. What, indeed.
In her funny, fascinating "What's the Difference?" newsletter, Brette Warshaw explores the semantic distinctions between such tricky topics as lotion and moisturizer, and jealousy and envy. And in her new book, "What's the Difference?: Recreational Culinary Reference for the Curious and Confused," she goes all in on broth vs. stock, and yes, icing vs. frosting. It's an undeniably fun read, but it's also a genuinely useful resource for anyone who's ever wondered if aioli is really just mayo. Some differences are purely regional, as the hoagie eaters of Philadelphia and sub fans of Boston know. Some things are just victims of misuse — "I think now knowing that what is in the grocery store labeled as a yam is actually a sweet potato makes me so bad," she says. "I feel like we've all been lied to for so long. That's definitely one."
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Others can make or break a recipe. "Types of sugars," she offers as an example. "Also the types of rice. Salt is another one of them. There's so many different types. There are types that can really elevate a dish, like flaky sea salts. Or you could use types that have some additives or have a finer texture than what a recipe actually calls and end up with something that's saltier than you'd like."
My favorite type of "What's the difference?" is the kind where the difference is real but also kind of doesn't matter. Take, for instance, affogato.
Affogato means "drowned," and "drowned," right after "smothered," is one of my favorite words to see in a recipe. Something that feels Continental and sophisticated but you can actually pull off with a Mr. Coffee and a tub of Breyer's? I'm all in.
In Italy, your affogato al caffè might be made with fior di latte and a shot of espresso, but in your own home, you can mix it up and make it with ice cream or gelato — they're different! You can even use strong coffee instead of espresso — they too are different! However you make your affogato, it's quite possibly the best 2-ingredient treat anybody ever thought of — strong and sweet, hot and cold, perfect every time.
- 1 double shot of hot espresso OR 2 ounces of strong hot coffee
- 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream OR gelato
- Optional: Grated chocolate, orange zest, fresh mint leaves, or a shot of your favorite liqueur
- Scoop your ice cream into a shallow bowl.
- Pour over your espresso and serve immediately. If you like, you can top with a little grated chocolate or otherwise zhush it up as you please. I find a little orange zest is a cool twist on the orange coffee soda that I am strangely obsessed with.
Pro tip: For the ultimate hot and cold combo, scoop your ice cream out into the bowl in advance, and put it back into the freezer until you're absolutely ready to pour the espresso over it.
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