Colomba Pasquale - Easter Dove Cake
Colomba Pasquale is a soft, intensely orangey cake with an almond topping, used to celebrate Easter in Italy. It is a member of the panettone family baked in a stylised dove shape, made with almonds, candied peel and Veneziana essence. The cake is eaten when (in Italy) both oranges and almonds are in blossom, celebrating the promise of the crop to come.
The Colomba is described as being from Milan following the appearance of doves after a battle in 1176, thought to represent the Holy Spirit, but there are many tales of its origin and Biblical references and also the simpler celebration of spring.
We've made this recipe at home, based on the one in The Italian Baker by Carol Field, a few times to try it out, and of course, eat it. This delicious cake takes a few hours to make but is not difficult and is worth doing. In a container we found that it keeps for at least 4 days after which it is still good for toasting.
This recipe makes dough for one 1kg Colomba Pasquale. It is made in 3 stages + topping, each of which is straightforward. You will end up with several egg whites so why not have a go at the Amaretti Cookies?
Stage 1: Sponge
- 24g fresh yeast (or 1.5 sachets dried organic yeast)
- 15g sugar
- 100g warm water
- 3 egg yolks
- 70g strong white flour
If using fresh yeast, whisk this into the warm water with the sugar and egg yolks, then stir in the flour to make an even mix. With dried yeast, do the same but add the yeast with the flour. When stirred to a smooth mix, cover with clingfilm and leave for about 30 minutes.
Stage 2: First Dough
- 1 quantity sponge (Stage 1)
- 6g fresh yeast (1/2 sachet dried organic yeast)
- 75g warm water
- 45g unsalted butter, softened
- 210g strong white flour
Whisk the fresh yeast into the water and stir into the sponge mixture. Stir in the butter and then the flour (and dried yeast, if using). Cover with clingfilm until doubled in volume, about 1 or 2 hours.
Stage 3: Second Dough
- 1 quantity First Dough
- 145g sugar
- 15g honey
- 3 egg yolks
- grated zest of 2 oranges
- 2 tsp Aroma Veneziana
- 115g unsalted butter, softened
- 250g strong white flour
- 5g fine sea salt
- 150g chopped mixed peel
Stir in the sugar, honey and egg yolks to the First Dough and then add the Aroma Venezia, orange zest and butter. Next, mix in the flour and salt then, as a soft dough is formed, knead on a floured surface until soft, smooth and elastic. I have found that sometimes I need to add a little more flour while kneading to make the dough come away from the work-surface.
Put the dough into an oiled bowl, covering with clingfilm and then leave until risen dramatically, about 3 times the original volume, which takes about 3 - 4 hours.
Cut the dough in half and flatten each piece onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle over the mixed peel and then roll each piece up into a log. Flatten once again and again roll one up into a log about 25cm long and the other to about 20cm long. Flatten each piece a little and place the longer piece into the Colomba Pasquale case, in the head-to-tail orientation. Next, place the shorter piece across the first, making the wings.
Cover with a damp tea-towel until doubled in volume, about 2-3 hours.
Before baking, make a simple paste with 2 of the egg whites, 25g sugar and 25g ground almonds. This should make a paste that can be spread over the risen dough. Onto this, sprinkle flaked almonds and pearl sugar.
Bake at 200C for 40 minutes. I found that placing two piece of foil loosely of the head and tail, later removing them helped to make the cake cook evenly. Use a skewer into the middle of the cake to check that it is cooked (the skewer will come out cleanly).