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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.