It’s Easter morning, and our social media is filled with pictures that our Italian family and friends have posted of their Pasqua spread: the sweet and savory Easter breakfast that Stefano’s mother makes, the delicious Neapolitan ricotta and cooked grain cake called la pastiera, lasagne, lamb, and egg-based savory dishes like torta pasqualina which is often served as picnic food on Easter Monday.
This year, we’ve added to our repertoire of Easter baking with the classic colomba, which means dove in Italian. This fragrant, yeasty cake is like the panettone and pandoro served at Christmas, but is baked in the form of a dove. With candied orange peel inside and a sweet, almond-sugar glaze on top, la colomba is a delicate Easter dessert.
There are varying versions of recipes for la colomba. Some follow the traditional method of multiple kneading and risings over a 24 hour window. Others have found ways to expedite the process. After a bit of research, we settled on this version from the Italian website Misya. It takes an entire day from morning til evening, but the down time over the course of four cycles of kneading and rising allows plenty of time to prepare the rest of your Easter offerings.
Paper dove-shaped baking molds are used to achieve the traditional shape of la colomba. Plan ahead, as these can be a bit tricky to find. This recipe is enough for a 1 kilogram mold, or two molds of 500 grams each. We found ours at Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop.
For the dough
500 g (4 cups) flour *If you can find Italian 00 flour, use it.
100 ml water
20 g (approx. 7 tsp) active dry yeast
200 g (14 Tbsp) unsalted butter
170 g (3/4 cups) sugar
5 egg yolks
30 ml (approx. 2 Tbsp) whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
The zest of one lemon
The zest of one orange
A pinch of salt
50 g (1/3 cup) candied orange peel (to make your own, see here)
For the glaze
2 egg whites
50 g (1/3 cup) sugar
Pearl sugar or decorators’ sugar
Dissolve the yeast in 100 ml warm water. Stir until it becomes a thick paste. Add 150 g (1 and 1/2 cups) of the flour, and stir together until the flour is absorbed. Use your hands to shape the dough into a smooth ball. Place the dough into a bowl of warm water, cover, and let rest for 30 minutes. Upon return, the dough will double in size and be floating.
While the dough is bathing in water, prepare for the second stage. In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 350 g (3 and 1/2 cups) of flour, the sugar, egg yolks, 100 g (7 Tbsp) of the butter, salt, vanilla, and the lemon and orange zest. Slowly add up to 30 ml (2 Tbsp) milk to bring the mixture together. Take the ball of dough out of the tub of water, shake the excess water off, and add it to the mixture. Mix the doughs together. Turn the new dough over onto a floured work surface, and knead it gently until smooth. The dough will be a bit sticky. Return to a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
Uncover the dough and add 50 g (3 and 1/2 Tbsp) soft butter. Place the dough into a mixing bowl and mix on low speed with a dough attachment for 10 minutes. Or, knead by hand. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 4 hours.
Uncover the dough, which will have doubled in size. Add the remaining 50 g (3 and 1/2 Tbsp) of soft butter and the candied orange peel. Mix for 15 minutes on low speed with the dough attachment, or knead by hand. Turn the dough out into the dove mold(s), using your hands to spread it to the borders of the mold. Leave the dough in a warm place to rise for 2 to 3 hours more, until it reaches the top edges of the mold.
Preheat the oven to 190o C (375oF). Prepare the glaze by beating the egg whites with the regular sugar until it becomes a frothy mixture. Brush the glaze abundantly over the surface of the dough. Arrange almonds over the entire surface area, and finish with a generous sprinkling of pearl sugar. Bake at 190o C (375oF) for 10 minutes. Then, turn the oven down to 100o C (350oF) and bake for 30 more minutes.
Let cool, and enjoy.