Colomba di Pasqua (Italian Easter Bread)

Colomba di Pasqua is the spring cousin to Italian panettone bread which is popular during the Christmas holidays. I adapted this recipe by adding finely chopped chocolate because we all need more chocolate on Easter! It’s a perfect treat to enjoy with a cup of strong coffee or to turn into Easter morning French toast. As for shaping the dough, I went “all in” with trying to create a bread that looked like a dove, but you could make more of an abstract looking dove. According to Denverpost.com,”Colomba’s history can be traced to Milan and the victory of Legnano, in 1176, when cities of the Lombard League defeated Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who was intent on capturing Italy for the Holy Roman Empire. It is said that two doves, symbolizing the Holy Ghost, appeared on the altar of the chariot carrying the battle standards and that the colomba commemorates that event and victory – an example of the role of food in history and food as history.

Italian Easter Bread Recipe

Biga (overnight starter)

  • 1 cup (120g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (113g) cool water
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Dough

  • 2 1/4 cups (269g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons (8g) salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (57g) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, white reserved for topping; room temperature preferred
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract + 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or Fioria di Scilia (Italian extract which can be purchased from King Arthur Flour)
  • Grated peel of 1 large orange
  • 1 cup (170g) dried fruit, of your choice, chopped if large- candied orange peel, golden raisins, apricots, or mango
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dark chocolate or mini chocolate chips

Topping

  • 1 large egg white, reserved from dough
  • 3 tablespoons almond flour or 3 tablespoons blanched almonds, finely ground
  • a currant or raisin for an eye on your dove (optional)
  • sliced almonds and pearl or coarse sugar (optional)

Method of Preparation:

  1. The night before you want to make the bread, mix together the biga (overnight starter) ingredients. Cover the bowl, and leave it at room temperature for up to 15 hours to 24 hours.
  2. Next day, combine the bubbly starter with all of the remaining dough ingredients except the grated orange rind, chopped fruit, and chopped chocolate. Mix to combine. Switch to the dough hook, and knead for about 12 minutes at medium speed, stopping the mixer every 3 minutes to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. By the end of the kneading time, the dough should have become elastic and satiny. It should be starting to leave the bottom and sides of the bowl, though it won’t form a smooth ball.
  3. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead in the grated orange rind, dried fruit and chocolate by hand. The dough should feel soft and smooth. If it’s sticky, add more flour, a bit at a time. Place dough in a clean, lightly greased large bowl.
  4. Cover the bowl with a clean towel, and let the dough rise for 2 hours in a warm spot. If your kitchen is drafty, you can create a warm spot, by boiling a mug of water in the your microwave. Remove the mug of hot water and immediately place the covered dough into the microwave to rise. The ambient heat from heating the water should help the dough to rise. It should have become quite puffy.

Shaping Your Dough:

  1. Divide the dough in two pieces, with one slightly larger than the other. Shape one into a 10″ log, with one tapered end; and the other into a 7″ log.
  2. Place the longest log lengthwise on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet; use the edge of your hand to form a crease in the center. Lay the shorter log crosswise across it, right at the crease. At this point it is more of a representation of a dove. If you want to go more literal with your interpretation, you can shape the top of the long piece of dough into a head with a beak. Flatten the other end of that piece into a fanned out shape and make cuts along the bottom for feathers. With the smaller piece of dough, create wider fanned shapes on each end of the dough and cut some slits for feathers. Place piece horizontally on a greased parchment paper. Lay the longer piece with the head vertically over the shorter piece. (See diagram)
  3. Cover the shaped loaf with a clean towel or lightly greased plastic wrap, and set it aside in a warm place to rise until it’s puffy; this will take about 1 to 2 hours, depending on what type of yeast you’ve used. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  4. Make the topping by mixing the egg white, ground almonds, and sugar. Gently paint this glaze all over the loaf; be generous. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds, then the pearl or coarse sugar if you desire.
  5. Bake the loaf for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 350°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes, tenting it for the final 10 minutes of baking. The finished loaf will be golden brown, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will register 190°F. If bread is getting too brown while still baking, loosely cover with tin foil.
  6. Remove the bread from the oven, and carefully slide it onto a rack to cool.

-adapted from King Arthur Flour’s recipe for Italian Easter Bread

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