Colomba di Pasqua (Easter dove) is a traditional Italian Easter yeast bread. In Italy, Colomba is to Easter what Panettone is to Christmas and they are similar. Colomba is rich with butter and eggs and often filled with raisins and candied orange peel. I prefer it with just some grated orange zest. It is gilded with a shiny coat of sugar/nut syrup and pearl sugar that is applied before baking, giving it a sweet, crisp crust. The bread dough starts with a sponge or biga that must raise overnight. The dough then requires two additional rising times. Traditional Colomba is baked in dove-shaped paper molds. These molds can be difficult to find and I have never used them. Options are to bake the Colomba in a loaf pan or a springform or other round cake pan. Traditionally, this bread is flavored with an orange scented extract called Fiori di Sicilia. If you are having trouble finding it, the combination of vanilla and orange extracts that I call for in the recipe make a delicious substitute.
The last time we were in Italy on Easter (seems soooo long ago), we were having lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Al Enoteca. The chef, Davide Palluda came out of the kitchen carrying a chunk of this beautiful, golden bread with a shiny, crisp crust that was still warm from the oven. He held it out for us to break off a piece (this was pre Covid19 days, of course). It was heavenly – soft and fragrant and slightly sweet with a crackly, crunchy topping. He wanted to give us a whole one for the road, but we were flying home the next morning, and we knew if we took it, we would eat the whole thing before we got on the plane!
Colomba di Pasqua
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cool water
- ⅛ teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 8 tablespoons butter (4 ounces), melted and cooled
- 2 large eggs and 1 egg yolk at room temperature – reserve egg white
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon orange extract
- ⅛ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon dry Marsala wine (optional)
- Grated zest from 1 large orange
- Reserved egg white
- 2 tablespoons almond flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon pearl sugar
- Mix ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and let rise at room temperature overnight.
Dough (the next day)
- Combine flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
- In another bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla, orange, and almond extracts, Marsala and orange zest until well combined.
- Add cooled butter to egg mixture and whisk together.
- Combine the egg mixture and the Biga with the flour mixture to form a shaggy dough. The best way to do this is to get your hands in the bowl! It will take some time to come together. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is very smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
- Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot in your kitchen to raise for 2-3 hours until doubled in size. This usually takes the full 3 hours.
- Grease a 9” springform or other round cake pan or a 10x5x3” loaf pan. Line bottom with parchment paper.
- When dough has doubled, dump onto a lightly floured surface and deflate by folding over itself several times. Shape dough to fit the pan of your choice. Cover and let rise for another 2 hours. Dough should double.
Topping Glaze / Baking
- Preheat oven to 325° convection.
- Make topping by beating the egg white until foamy. Beat in the almond flour and sugar.
- Brush the top of the bread with the topping and scatter pearl sugar over the top. Use only as much topping as you prefer. I usually do not use it all, but in Italy, they are very liberal with it.
- Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick tests clean. If the bread is getting too brown, tent loosely with tin foil.