Growing up Italian, my family would bake regional Italian sweets for every holiday. This traditional sweet bread is one you will find in every region of Italy at Easter.
The dough is very similar to Panettone as it is an enriched dough that includes fresh eggs, sugar, butter, and natural yeast. The flavorings for this bread usually contain candied orange peel and dried fruit, most often raisins, although these days you can find a Colomba made with everything from chocolate chips to a filling of either lemon or Nutella!
Traditionally this bread is topped with a shiny glaze, pearl sugar, and almonds, and you will find it everywhere at Easter sold wrapped in colorful paper. These colorfully wrapped sweet breads are often given to family and friends as gifts at Easter. This sweet breads is great sliced and toasted, eaten with a cappuccino for breakfast, or enjoyed after your meal with a glass of sweet wine.
So why shape the bread like a dove? There are many versions of the story, but apart from stating that the first Colomba originated in Milan and that the dove represents peace, every legend is different. One legend traces this Easter cake to the Lombard king Alboino who during the siege of Pavia in the mid-sixth century saw himself offering, as a sign of peace, a sweet bread shaped like a dove. Check out this recipe which is fairly easy to make.
BIGA ( Pre-fermentation )
1 cup All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup cool Water
1/8 teaspoon Instant Yeast
2 1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Instant Yeast
1/3 Cup Sugar
6 Tablespoons Butter, Melted & Cooled
2 Large Eggs & 1 Egg yolk At Room Temperature (Save Egg With For Topping)
1/2 Teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (Or 2 Teaspoons Vanilla & 1/2 Teaspoon Orange Extract)
1/3 Cup Finely Chopped Candied Orange or Lemon Peel \
Grated Zest From 1 Large Orange
1 1/2 Cups Golden Raisins, Chopped If Large
1 Large Egg White
3 Tablespoons Almond Flour
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Sliced Almonds
6 Teaspoons Pearl Sugar
The night before, mix together your biga ingredients in a small bowl, cover, and let rise overnight.
The next day, in a large bowl, add the biga starter, the flour, salt, yeast, sugar, butter, eggs, and extract.
Use a wooden spoon to mix into a shaggy dough, then add the candied orange and raisins.
Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter, and knead by hand until the dough is very smooth and elastic, about 7 to 8 minutes.
Alternately, mix ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook until smooth.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot in your kitchen to rise for 2 to 3 hours until soft and almost doubled in size.
Divide the dough into two pieces and either place in your Colomba form, or shape by hand by forming a cross shape.
Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise again for another 2 hours.
At the end of your rising time, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Make your topping by beating the egg whites until foamy, then adding the almond flour, and sugar.
Liberally brush the top and sides of the bread with the egg white mixture and then scatter the pearl sugar and sliced almonds on top.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out cleanly when inserted in the center. (If the bread darkens too much when baking, tent some aluminum foil on top.
Cool completely, slice, and enjoy!