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Colomba pasquale

Updated: Sun, 29 March, 2015

Colomba di Pasqua, Italian Easter bread is the equivalent of panettone from Christmas time. Colomba means dove and it could not be a more fitting name for this festive, springtime bread.

colomba pasquale

The nicest of Easter bakes

All its elements shout: spring! and Easter! It's airy and cheerfully yellow from egg yolks, studded with almonds and flavoured with orange and the best thing about it - it bakes in a special dove shaped case.

There are of course other Easter celebration bakes: Simnel, Roisinbrot, Kulich, and many others all over the world but Colomba pasquale is the only dove-shaped one. The one to make us feel the most cheerful, spring-like and upbeat!

Easter is all about little fluffy yellow chickens, bright coloured tulips and the yellow-yellow-yellow daffodils scattered around in vases. Easter is about a leisurely roast lamb which is nothing like being stressed about Christmas turkey.

It's about children twitching with excitement at the thought of egg hunts, it's more chocolate than you thought was feasible to hoard in one house and hot cross buns for afternoon tea.

italian easter dove cake

Perfect cake for Easter Sunday

For Easter Sunday breakfast colomba is the dream bake. I always intend to slice it neatly, starting from tail and ending with beak but we invariably tear the poor dove's tail off, impatient to sink our teeth into the almond flecked perfection.

For extra indulgence, I sometimes spread a little soft butter on my pulled-apart wing or beak, but certainly not because it needs it. With a huge mug of coffee, it's Easter bliss.

I've baked my colomba year after year in the original paper cases, shipped from Italy by thoughtful relatives. It will not be less delicious if baked in a large round cake tin, but do get hold of the colomba mould if you can.

colomba di pasqua

Is colomba bread or cake?

It is the eternal debacle, that's what it is, between what is a bread and what is a cake. In the UK, any bake leavened with yeast is bread, be it the sweetest, most lavishly iced and filled with cream confection. Unless it's a small baked item - then it is a bun or a tea cake.

In Italian it is called simply 'il dolce' - a sweet, which is a nicely vague, all-encompassing term.

I usually rebel against calling sweet bakes 'bread' and commend French language which neatly divides all confections into pain, gateau and brioche. But if I start calling colombas and panettoni 'brioches' everyone will end up very confused. Let's stick to colomba, without specifying the genre! It's a pretty enough label.

italian colomba dove shaped cake

How to make colomba cake?

It is not quite as complex a process as traditional panettone, even though it's derived from it.

But it is time consuming and it requires considerable patience, as most yeast leavened BREADS or CAKES or BRIOCHES do.

The process is fourfold: the sponge, the first dough, the main or final dough and the final proof. The dough is very rich so no surprise it needs four separate rising spells.

The sponge aims to get the yeast going, a hefty amount as well. With egg yolks, some sugar and some flour it starts similarly to panettone on bakers' yeast, at warm room temperature.

The second step, so called first dough has another pinch of yeast, just to be sure it will rise, and is enriched with butter. The main dough means business with more flour, salt, egg yolks and delicious orange aromatics. This needs to rise until three times the volume!

The next step is adding fruit and candied orange peel. It is best to do it by hand, stretching the dough gently on a work surface and folding the fruit in.

easter colomba cake

Dove shape delicious

And onto the shaping: the dove is made of two logs, one lengthwise and the other across. But I have seen colomba shaped from three pieces: a length from beak to tail and two small logs nesting in the wings.

Another long rise and finally the nicest part: the almond glaze and sprinkle, to make the dove look like it's covered in scaly, almondy feathers.

You may want to prepare two small pieces of foil as the extremities tend to brown more than the centre. Loosely cover the browning too much parts with the foil halfway through the baking time.

Recipe from Bakery Bits.

colomba pasquale

Servings: 12-14Time: 10 hours
Rating: (2 reviews)


  • 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 or ½ tsp fast action
  • 75g warm water
  • 45g butter, softened
  • 210g strong white bread flour
  • For the final dough:
  • 145g sugar
  • 15g honey
  • 3 egg yolks
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 2 tsp 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 stir this into the flour until well combined. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.

colomba cake first dough

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.

colomba cake main dough

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 awfully stick to the sides 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.

proving colomba

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.

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Your comments

Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Betty - I'm so pleased to hear it!
6 months ago
Betty Lamb
Great recipe, thank you so much,I loved it.
6 months ago

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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