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Colomba means ‘dove’. How fitting! I know that different parts of the world have different celebration cakes for Easter: Simnel, Roisinbrot, Kulich, and so many others – but the thought of actually baking a dove-shaped cake, studded with almonds, flavoured with orange, must make you feel so cheerful, spring-like and upbeat!
Easter is about little fluffy yellow chickens (God knows I’ve got enough of those adorning my house), bright coloured tulips and the yellow-more-than-yellow daffs scattered around in vases. Easter is about a leisurely roast lamb, not being as stressed as at Christmas time, it will turn out what it will turn out like. For pudding, cheesecake perhaps – and for Easter Sunday breakfast certainly Colomba, at least in my house. Hassle, long wait for the consecutive proves, but then it bakes into a lovely, almond-studded perfection and you sigh with satisfaction at the sight.
The recipe is from Bakery Bits, sadly the link has now gone. I’m lucky to have the original Colomba paper cases, shipped from Italy by thoughtful relatives, but if you can’t get hold of those, bake it in a large round tin. Use fresh yeast though: dough on fresh yeast rises cheerfully upright, rather than spreading sideways, and that’s what you want with your Colomba.
- For the sponge:
- 24g fresh yeast or 6g fast action
- 15g sugar
- 100g warm water
- 3 egg yolks
- 70g strong white flour
- For the first dough:
- 6g fresh yeast or1tsp fast action
- 75g warm water
- 45g butter, softened
- 210g strong white flour
- For the final dough:
- 145g sugar
- 15g honey
- 3 egg yolks
- zest of 2 oranges
- 2tsp orange essence
- 115g butter, softened
- 250g strong white flour
- 5g sea salt
- 150g mixed peel, chopped
- 100g raisins (optional)
- For the glaze:
- 1 egg white
- 25g sugar
- 25g ground almonds
- 50g flaked almonds
- 3 tbsp coarse crystal or pearl sugar
1. First make the sponge: whisk the yeast into the warm water, mix in the egg yolks and sugar and add this to the flour until well combined. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.
2. After that time mix the second quantity of yeast into water, then mix it into the sponge. Beat in the butter and the flour. Cover and leave somewhere warm until doubled in volume, for about 1 hour.
3. Stir in the sugar, honey, egg yolks, orange essence, orange zest and the butter into the first dough. Add the flour and salt and knead or mix in a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment for at least 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and stretchy and bounces off the sides of the bowl or stops sticking to your fingers. Place it in an oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place until tripled in volume – for 3-4 hours.
4. Tip the risen dough onto a work surface and sprinkle with chopped peel and raisins, if using. Knead the fruit in well, folding the dough onto itself, until the fruit is well distributed.
5. Divide the dough in half and roll one piece into a log about 25cm long and the other – 20cm long. Butter thoroughly the paper Colomba case if using – the cake will stick to the sides something awful otherwise. Place the longer piece in the case head to tail, and place the shorter piece on top of it across. Put the case in an inflated plastic bag (just blow into it and tie the ends) and leave to prove until the dough comes up almost to the rim of the case, 2-3 hours.
6. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Make the glaze: mix the egg white with the ground almonds and sugar into a paste, spread over the risen dough and sprinkle with flaked almonds and sugar.
7. Bake for about 40 minutes – halfway through the time you can cover the head and tail parts loosely with two pieces of foil to stop them from burning. Cool on a wire rack.