Monday, March 06, 2006

Colomba – Italian Easter Sweet Bread from Milan

The Colomba, or dove, is also known as the dessert of peace. The image of the dove dates from the time of Noah when, after the great flood, a dove appeared with an olive branch tucked in its beak signaling that land was near by and the odyssey was over.

In 750 AD, a pastry chef from Pavia (just outside of Milan) created this sweet bread in the form of a dove and offered it, as a sign of peace to the King of the Longobardi, Alboino who was burning the cities that had resisted his takeover of the region. This humble gesture touched the king who ended the campaign of destruction.

Another legend indicates that as part of the tribute that the cities were required to pay a young girl was also required as a bed maid. Of the twelve girls one, a pastry chef from Pavia, brought with her eggs, flour, sugar, candied fruits and almonds. Before being called to the king’s chambers she prepared a sweet bread in the form of a dove. The king ate the dessert and liked it so much that he freed her and made Pavia his capital.

Whether this be case or not, the Colomba is now integrated into the traditions of all Italian families. It is often offered as a present between friends and is an acceptable gift should you be invited over for the Easter dinner. This bread is prepared during the period of Lent and disappears immediately following Easter.


3 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast or 24 grams of fresh yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup warm milk
8 egg yolks
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk, while stirring add the yeast. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes. Pour the milk-yeast into a mixing bowl, stir in the egg yolks. Finally stir in the flour until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

First Dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast or 7 grams fresh yeast
5 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons (45 grams) softened unsalted butter
1 ½ cups (200 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water, while stirring add the yeast. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes until creamy. Stir the yeast into the sponge. Stir in the butter and finally the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ - 2 hours.

Second Dough
½ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 stick (115 grams) of unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups (250 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (150 grams) candied orange peel

Add the sugar, vanilla, and butter to the first dough. Mix until smooth. Mix the salt and flour together. Add the flour-salt mix to the dough, one cup at a time. Continue stirring until a soft dough is formed. Knead on a floured surface until a soft, but elastic, dough is formed, about 10 minutes. Place in a buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until tripled, about 3 ½ hours.

Place the dough on a floured surface. Cut in half and gently flatten each piece of dough. Sprinkle and pat down the candied orange peel over the two pieces of dough. Roll each piece into a log. Gently flatten again and then roll into two logs, one about 10 inches and the other about 7 inches long. Place the 10 inch log in the center of a baking pan. Place the second log across the first forming a cross. Bend the two ends of the cross bar toward the bottom forming the dove wings.

1 egg yolk, beaten
½ cup (100 grams) almonds
¼ cup (50 grams) sugar

Brush the dough with the egg yolk. Distribute the almonds across the surface and pat lightly. Sprinkle the sugar over the entire surface. Cover with a slightly damp towel and let rise for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the Colomba in the oven. After 10 minutes reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before serving. Once cool you may sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

An appropriate wine with this Easter bread would be Moscato d’Asti, Moscadello or Spumante.

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Blogger Jerry said...

looks yummy...

4:02 PM

Blogger mel said...

Very nice entry, very interesting. and yummy looking. :) -M.

4:49 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

We are preparing for Easter. All of the great holiday celebrations in Italy entail food. So check back over the next few days.

5:33 PM

Blogger a.c.t said...

Hi there, had a great time in Milan, but alas, the food wasn't really anything to write home about. I've also found a new blogging home. I love Colomba - I think it's great that Italians have a different cake for different times of the year. At Christmas I love Pandoro. Amanda

4:05 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

ACT - Welcome back, I am sorry you did not have a good experience with the food in Milan but it can happen even in Italy!

Did you get a chance to see some of the Summer Fashion shows?

7:34 AM

Blogger a.c.t said...

Unfortunately not, the fashion shows are usually booked up with famous people and paparazzi. Alas, I am not one of those - yet ;-)

3:12 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

I believe that time is near for you!

6:51 AM


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