The Easter Colomba, is a delicious traditional Italian sweet yeast bread. Make it with your favourite fillings, such as chocolate chips, candied fruit, raisins or even plain. The Perfect Italian Easter recipe for breakfast, brunch or even dessert.
You know it’s almost Easter in Italy, every grocery store you go to is filled with every type of Colomba and Chocolate Easter eggs.
A few Easters back I shared a delicious Easter Bread. It was always baked and shared at Easter time when I was a kid. It is considered the perfect dunking bread!
- Water – lukewarm water
- Honey – or granulated sugar
- Yeast – active dry yeast
- Flour – all purpose or 0 flour
- Sugar – granulated sugar
- Eggs – whole large eggs room temperature
- Milk – lukewarm whole or 2% milk
- Butter – room temperature butter, if you use unsalted butter then add a bit more salt
- Lemon – lemon zest
- Orange – orange zest
- Candied Orange – or a citrus combination -optional
- Chocolate chips – optional, I use dark chocolate mini chips
- Egg white
- Almonds – whole almonds peeled
- Pear sugar
- Powdered sugar – sprinkled on top of the glaze and almonds
What is Pearl Sugar?
It is a very coarse, hard, and off white in colour type of sugar. It does not melt at temperatures that are used for baking, this is why it makes the perfect topping for pastries and specialty breads. If you can’t find pearl / nib sugar then I have a recipe for Homemade Pearl Sugar on my Ciambella Romagnola Italian Cake.
How to make Colomba
To make the Classic Colomba you have to start with a starter dough. This is a yeast dough that is not as complicated as it looks, you just need patience and time.
First Step is to make a Starter dough
In a medium bowl add the lukewarm water, honey and yeast, let sit 3-5 minutes then stir to combine. Add the flour and mix to form a dough ball.
Cover and let rise 1-2 hours or until tripled in volume.
In the bowl of the mixer add the flour, starter dough, sugar and salt, with the dough hook attachment, start to knead. Add the milk and egg, knead until completely combined.
Add the butter a little at a time, continue kneading until completely combined. Move the dough to a lightly floured flat surface and knead a few times to form a smooth ball.
Place the dough in a bowl, cover and let rise until tripled in bulk.
Place the risen dough in the mixer, add the egg, knead to combine. Add the flour in two additions, kneading continually, continue to knead for 10 minutes. Add the butter a little at a time and knead until combined.
Add the zest and candied fruit, knead for nine minutes. Add the chocolate chips and knead for one more minute.
The dough will be stretchy.
Move the dough to a lightly floured flat surface. Knead a few times to form a smooth ball. Form into 3 pieces, one long oval and two smaller ovals. Or use a lightly buttered loaf pan or high sided cake pan.
Place the dove in the special pan and let rise until doubled. Or use a lightly buttered loaf pan or high sided cake pan. Shape the dough for the pan.
Brush the risen bread with the sugar glaze.
Top with almonds, pearl sugar and powdered sugar.
Bake in the pre-heated oven until golden.
How do you know when the Easter bread is baked?
The best way to tell if sweet bread is done is to use an instant thermometer. The internal temperature should be 190F / 88C, this will produce a nice soft bread.
What is Colomba and what does it mean
La Colomba is a delicious sweet bread made with yeast. In English Colomba means Dove. While Pandoro or Panettone are the traditional sweet breads for an Italian Christmas, Colomba is the traditional bread for Easter.
What is the origin of Colomba?
It is thought, that the Colomba dates back to 570 AD. In the middle of the Longobard era, the barbarian King Alboin conquered the city of Pavia. He received a sweet bread in the shape of a dove from the local people as a sign of peace.
Another legend, which is still attributed to the region of Lombardy. At the battle of Legnano in 1176, the Lombard League defeated the emperor Federico Barbarossa. Apparently shortly before the battle, two doves landed on the insignia of the League, the caption who was inspired by this vision, had sweet loaves prepared in the shape of a dove to give courage to his men.
Although the modern day Colomba was made from an idea in 1930, in Milan. It was, Dino Villani, advertising director of the Milanese company Motta, who had the amazing and winning idea of this Italian Easter cake.
What can you use as a filling for Italian Easter Bread?
Usually these Italian sweet breads are filled with candied fruit or raisins, but since a few members of my family don’t like candied fruit, and the other couple don’t like raisins. Chocolate chips won. Or you could make it plain and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract if you prefer.
In Italy you can purchase these delicious sweet breads with chopped chocolate or chips, orange peel and also covered with melted chocolate! Which I have to say is one of my favourites!
You could serve a slice of colomba with fresh berries and whipped cream for a very special Easter dessert or serve a slice with a glass of prosecco!
How to store the Easter Bread
The baked cooled bread should be stored in an airtight plastic bag, and kept at room temperature, it will keep for up to 3-4 days. It can also be frozen in a freezer safe bag or container. It will keep for two months in the freezer.
I know I have said it before and I will continue to say it, do not be afraid to bake with yeast.
I never used to make Sweet Doughs with yeast because I was convinced it was difficult and would taste yeasty. But believe me it isn’t and it doesn’t.
I started with a simple Brioche and now I have tackled this tasty Colomba.
Whether you have tried this delicious sweet bread or, I think you should try making it yourself. Surprise everyone at Easter with a Colomba. You can make a traditional dove shape pan (available in Italian specialty stores (Eataly?) or even use a loaf pan or a high sided cake pan.
Remember all you need is time and patience. It just might become your new Easter tradition. Enjoy!
Colomba Italian Easter Bread
- 2 tablespoons lukewarm water (temp 105F/40C) (30 grams)
- ½ teaspoon honey
- 1¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (3 1/2 grams)
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour (50 grams)
- 1¼ cups + 3 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour (200 grams)
- ½ cup granulated sugar (100 grams)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup milk (lukewarm) (55 grams)
- 1 large egg (room temperature)
- ¼ cup butter (softened) (50 grams)
- 1 cup all purpose flour (125 grams)
- ⅓ cup + 1/2 tablespoon butter (softened/salted) (75 grams)
- 1 large egg (room temperature)
- zest half lemon & half an orange
- 3-4 tablespoons candied orange (40-50 grams)
- 3-4 tablespoons mini chocolate chips (30-45 grams)
- 1 large egg white
- 15-20 whole almonds (more or less)
- 2-3 tablespoons Pearl or Nib sugar
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- In a medium bowl add the lukewarm water, honey and yeast, let sit 3-5 minutes then stir to combine. Add the flour and mix to form a dough ball, cover and let rise in a warm draft free area for 1-2 hours or until tripled in volume.
- In the bowl of the mixer add the starter dough, flour, sugar and salt, with the dough hook attachment start to knead. Add the milk and egg and knead until completely combined. Then add the butter a little at a time, continue kneading until completely combined. Move the dough to a lightly floured flat surface and knead a few times to form a smooth ball, (it will be sticky, wetting your hands will help rather than using more flour). Place the dough in a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm draft free area for 4 hours or until tripled in bulk.
- Place the risen dough in the mixer and add the egg and knead to combine. Add the flour in two additions, kneading continually, continue kneading for 10 minutes. Add the butter a little at a time and knead until combined. Add the zest and candied fruit, knead nine minutes then add the chocolate chips and knead for another minute, the dough should be stretchy.
- Move the dough to a lightly floured flat surface. Knead a few times to form a smooth ball. Depending on whether you have a colomba pan or not you could a 500gram/½ pound one or place in a loaf pan or a high sided cake pan. If you make a colomba then form the dough into three pieces*, divide the dough in half, form one medium oval and 2 small oval shaped balls with the other half-(see photos). If not then shape the dough long for a loaf or round for a cake pan*. Place in the pan and let rise 3-4 hours or until doubled.
- Pre-heat oven to 350F (180C). Place a pan with 1 1/2 cups of water in it on the bottom of the oven.
- Brush the risen bread with the sugar topping. Top with the almonds and pearl sugar, then sprinkle with the powdered sugar.
- Place the bread on the middle rack and bake for 20 minutes (if the bread is browning too much then cover it with foil and continue baking), lower the temperature to 325F (165C) for approximately 10-15 minutes until down, or a toothpick (I used a wooden kabob stick) comes out clean or a couple of crumbs are attached, to be precise use an instant thermometer. The internal temperature should be 190F / 88C, this will produce a nice soft bread. Let cool bread cool on a wire rack, Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Enjoy!
- In a small bowl beat together until thick, egg white and powdered/icing sugar, coat top of final risen dough, sprinkle with whole almonds and pearl / nib sugar.
* I have used a tall loaf/can pan 7×3 inches (18x9cm).
Updated from March 3, 2018.