Colomba di Pasqua is a sweet, bread-like Italian Easter cake from Lombardy that dates back to the Middle Ages. Its origin has inspired many legends but its traditional representation as an Easter confection wasn't popularized until the1930's.
Milanese baker Angelo Motta, whose bakery was already famous for his Christmas Panettone and Pandoro, decided to re-purpose his classic dough for the Easter season. A version was made in the shape of a dove and today you’ll find Colomba all over Italy in the best bakeries and pastry shops to be served and enjoyed on Easter Sunday. Studded with candied fruit and covered with pearls of sugar, Colomba di Pasqua is a seasonal celebration that symbolizes rebirth and renewal and the Italian culinary world in springtime.
The traditional dough is made from flour, butter, eggs, sugar, yeast and candied orange peel, shaped in the form of a dove and topped with almonds and pearl sugar. It takes time and patience to make a Colomba. An opera of a recipe where the dough needs to rest an entire night before having extra flour, eggs and sugar added. After that, it will have to rest for at least four hours before going into the oven. Once baked, another 7 hours of rest are needed before it is ready to enjoy. The recipe in total can take up to 24 hours. Here is a simpler no knead version made without yeast that is a variation of the classic Colomba that can be made in a stand mixer.
Colomba di Pasqua moulds can be difficult to find outside of Italy. You can make your own mould out of an aluminium foil tray.
Recipe for Colomba di Pasqua
2 ½ cups flour
1 + ¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup + 2 Tbsp melted butter (cooled a little)
1 Tbsp baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of 1 orange
5 oz candied orange peel
2 t vanilla extract + ½ t orange extract (Fiori di Sicilia)
1 egg white (lightly beaten), thinly sliced almonds and pearl sugar* for decoration
Beat the eggs and granulated sugar on maximum speed until white (about 10 minutes)
Add sifted flour, baking powder, vanilla and beat again.
Add melted, cooled butter, and mix well.
Add candied fruit, grated orange, lemon zest and almond essence. Mix everything well again
Transfer the dough to the Colomba mould. Lightly brush the dove with the beaten egg white and place thinly sliced almonds on top. Sprinkle with pearl sugar.
Bake in preheated oven set to 350F for 30-45 minutes (check readiness with a toothpick). Once baked set the Colomba on a wire rack to cool before removing baking form.
*Pearl sugar is a very coarse, hard, and off white in colour type of sugar. It does not melt at temperatures that are used for
baking, this is why it makes the perfect topping for pastries and specialty breads. Coarse sugar can be used in its place.
One of our favorite Easter servers is this Ceramic Bunny Dessert Plate from la Jolie Muse. We use it for our Colomba and Easter totine (cupcakes).