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Colomba cake

Colomba, an Easter speciality, is Italy's answer to the traditional British simnel cake decorated with flowers and chicks. It is a soft, yeasty, suety-textured sponge dotted with small cubes of candied orange peel and topped with crunchy sugar pieces and sliced or whole almonds.

Its name comes from the Italian word for pigeon because it is vaguely in the shape of a flying bird. It actually looks more like a distorted four-petalled flower, but with a bit of imagination one can see it is a dove with a stubby head and beak, stubby wings and a stubby tail - a symbol of peace and the Holy Spirit.

Colomba cake and box - click to enlarge

Colomba cake and box
Click on picture to enlarge

Colomba cakes are given as presents at Easter, appearing in the shops some weeks before in their special boxes with a carrying handle. They are quite delicious and in my opinion do not particularly benefit from such complications as injecting them with chocolate or lemon paste or coating them with hazelnut icing.

The process by which they are made is complex, takes more than a day, and involves leaving the dough to rise five times. Needless to say, I have never attempted to make a 'colomba'. Here, however, is a brief recipe for one.

Recipe for Colomba di Pasqua (Italian Easter bread) - makes 2 loaves.


Yeast, unbleached flour, unsalted butter, eggs, sugar, candied orange peel, whole milk, honey, water, sea salt, almonds, almond extract.


  1. Mix about 1.5 teaspoons of yeast into water and sugar then add 7 tablespoons of unbleached flour.

  2. Add 2-3 cups of flour, 4 large egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of water and 2 teaspoons of sugar and beat together. Cover bowl with plastic and leave to rise for an hour.

  3. Add 6 tablespoons of (soft) butter, 5 tablespoons of sugar, 2 large egg yolks, 2 tablespoons of lukewarm milk and one tablespoon of honey, and beat till blended. Add 2.25 cups of flour and beat again. Cover with plastic and leave to rise for about 3.5 hours.

  4. Mix a further 1.5 teaspoons of yeast into water and add it to the dough. Add just over another cupful of flour, half a cup of butter, 6 tablespoons of sugar and 2 egg yolks and beat till smooth. Add 2 more egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of milk, 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 1.5 teaspoons of salt. Beat till blended, then add nearly a cupful of flour, half a cupful of butter, and 1.5 (10 oz) cups of chopped candied orange peel. Scrape dough into a large bowl, cover with plastic and leave to rise for 8 - 10 hours.

  5. Toss dough in flour and arrange in dove-shaped baking moulds. Cover with plastic and leave to rise for about 2.25 hours.

  6. Spread with a glaze made of egg whites, sugar and ground almonds, sprinkle with almonds and sugar and bake in a fairly cool oven.

Then eat your 'colomba'!

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