Colomba Pasquale – The words literally mean “Easter Dove.” I know, I know, you’ve got to use your imagination a little to see the dove shape in this dessert, but people all over Italy will be serving this buttery, brioche-like cake this Sunday and you can too with a little bit of effort.
Many years ago (well, decades actually) on one of my early visits to Italy, my Aunt Ave sent me home with a colomba, purchased in a store near her home. I made room in my luggage for the Easter treat and we happily ate it shortly after we got back to the states.
Most people in Italy do not make their own colomba, but rather buy it in a store. Most people in the U.S. who want to eat a colomba also buy it at a store. Like the panettone at Christmastime, colomba has become as ubiquitous as a chocolate bunny during Easter season. They’re even sold at my local supermarket.
Always up for a culinary challenge, I decided to try to make it from scratch this year. The paper forms can be ordered online, and I got mine from a great kitchen supply store in Philadelphia called Fante’s. The shipping cost more than the paper forms, but given the convenience and price of gas, it was worth it.
I’m giving you this post before Easter for those brave enough to give it a try. It’s not hard to make, it’s just time-consuming. But truth be told, a lot of the time is spent just waiting for the dough to rise – and there are several risings. You can start the dough one day and finish baking the next.
The sight of the well-risen cakes as they came out of the oven, crunchy with almonds and sugar, was worth all the fuss, not to mention the taste of the little tidbits that fell off, needing to be “tidied up.”
And the recipe makes two cakes.
I’m sending an update today - Easter Monday (Pasquetta in Italy) - to show you the interior of the Colomba. The texture was perfect, but it was a little dry, probably because I was worried that it needed more time in the oven and I baked it closer to one and a half hours, rather than the one hour stated in the recipe. Next time I’ll bake it according to the recipe.
I thought it needed a little more orange flavoring too, and might try adding a bit of orange flower water, or the grated rind of another orange, in addition to the candied orange peel. Still, there were no complaints about the colomba this Easter. I guess pouring a little vin santo over the slices wasn’t a bad idea either.
Here are a few photos of the process:
The dough just before the second rising – with candied orange peel added. You can use raisins or dried apricots if you don’t like candied orange peel, or leave out the fruit entirely.
Splitting the dough into three parts – use a scale to get even distribution. One third will get cut in half and used as “wings.” The two remaining pieces will become the “bodies” of the birds.
The paper molds and the cakes awaiting the third rising:
The cakes are finished rising and ready for the glaze.
The glaze of egg whites, sugar and ground almonds. It rose so much that there wasn’t enough room for all the glaze.
Sprinkling almonds and coarse sugar on top:
Fresh from the oven:
And ready for the Easter table:
Recipe originally from Bon Appetit
Make steps one through four on the first day. Step four includes an eight- to ten-hour rising that could be done overnight. Then finish and bake the next day.
Yield: 2 loaves.
Step 1 (Starter)
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cool water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
7 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
2/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cool water
2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (very soft), cut into 6 pieces
5 tablespoons sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons lukewarm whole milk
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup cool water
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (very soft), cut into 12 pieces
6 tablespoons sugar
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons lukewarm whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups (about 10 oz.) chopped candied orange peel (I made my own using this recipe, but you can buy it in specialty foods stores or leave it out)
Step 6 (Glaze and baking)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole unblanched almonds
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/3 cups sliced almonds
For step 1 (Making starter):
Combine water and sugar in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Stir in yeast. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes. Using rubber spatula, mix in flour (dough will be firm). Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let starter rise until puffy, about 45 minutes. (Initially, the starter is firm and compact, but it softens and becomes puffy and spongy after rising.)
For step 2:
Attach dough hook to mixer. Add all ingredients in step 2 to starter. Beat until blended, scraping down sides of bowl often, about 5 minutes (dough will be soft and thick). Scrape dough off hook; remove hook. Cover bowl with plastic. Let dough rise at room temperature until puffy and bubbly on top, about 1 hour. The dough will look thick, shiny, and slightly puffed.
For step 3:
Reattach clean dough hook. Add first 5 ingredients in step 3 to dough; beat until blended. Add flour. Beat at low speed until smooth, scraping down bowl and hook often, about 5 minutes (dough will be firm and compact). Scrape dough off hook; remove hook. Cover bowl with plastic; let dough rise at room temperature until lighter in texture and slightly puffed, about 3 1/2 hours. The dough will double in volume and become lighter in texture but less glossy.
For step 4:
Reattach clean dough hook. Mix water and yeast in small cup. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes; add to dough. Add 1 1/3 cups flour, half of butter, sugar, and 2 yolks; beat until dough is smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down dough hook and sides of bowl. Add remaining 2 yolks, milk, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat at low speed until blended, about 3 minutes. Scrape down hook. Add remaining 2/3 cup flour, remaining butter, and orange peel. Beat dough until well blended, about 5 minutes. Scrape dough into very large (at least 4-quart) buttered bowl. Cover with plastic. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled and indentation remains when 2 fingers are pressed about 1/4 inch into dough, 8 to 10 hours.
For step 5:
Sprinkle 1/2 cup flour onto work surface. Scrape dough out onto floured work surface (dough will be soft and sticky). Gently toss dough in flour until easy to handle. Brush away excess flour. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Divide 1 piece in half; shape each half into 10-inch-long log. Arrange 1 log crosswise in each paper baking mold, curving ends to fit. Roll each remaining dough piece into 11-inch-long log, slightly tapered at ends. Place 1 log across dough in each mold. (If using 2 cheesecake pans, divide dough in half; place half in each prepared pan). Cover molds (or pans) with plastic. Let stand at room temperature until dough rises to top of each mold and indentation remains when 2 fingers are pressed about 1/4 inch into dough, about 3 1/4 hours.
For step 6 (Glaze and baking):
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375 F. (I used a temperature of 350 F. and baked it for one hour). Finely grind sugar and whole almonds in processor. Add egg whites and almond extract; blend 10 seconds. Peel plastic off dough in molds. Spoon half of almond glaze over top of each. Sprinkle each with sliced almonds. Sift powdered sugar over. Slide rimless baking sheet under molds; slide molds directly onto oven rack.
Bake breads until brown on top and slender wooden skewer inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes (I baked it for one hour at 350 degrees). Cool breads completely on rack. (Can be made ahead. Wrap; let stand at room temperature up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 week.)