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Colomba Italian Easter Bread

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.

Colomba on a black board with 2 orange slices, almonds and powdered sugar in a sieve.


 

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!

Recipe Ingredients

  • Water – lukewarm water
  • Honey – or granulated sugar
  • Yeast – active dry yeast
  • Flour – all purpose or 0 flour
  • Sugar – granulated sugar
  • Salt
  • 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
Ingredients for the recipe.

Topping

  • 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.

Making the first dough.

Cover and let rise 1-2 hours or until tripled in volume.

The frist rise risen in a blue bowl.

First Kneading

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.

The first dough and dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.

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.

The dough mixed and on a wooden board.

Place the dough in a bowl, cover and let rise until tripled in bulk.

The dough in a white bowl before and after rising.

2nd Kneading

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.

Adding the 2nd rise with eggs and mixing in the flour.

Add the zest and candied fruit, knead for nine minutes. Add the chocolate chips and knead for one more minute.

Adding the candied fruit and chocolate chips to the bowl.

The dough will be stretchy.

The dough kneaded.

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.

The dough divided into three parts.

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.

The dough in the pan before and after rising.

Brush the risen bread with the sugar glaze.

The sugar glaze in a white bowl.

Top with almonds, pearl sugar and powdered sugar.

The glaze, almonds and powdered sugar on the risen bread.

Bake in the pre-heated oven until golden.

The baked bread on a wire rack.

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.

Bread with two slices cut.

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!

The bread on a blue board.

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.

Two slices of Easter bread on a blue board.

Remember all you need is time and patience. It just might become your new Easter tradition. Enjoy!

Colomba on a black board with 2 orange slices, almonds and powdered sugar in a sieve.

Colomba Italian Easter Bread

Rosemary Molloy
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.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 day 45 minutes
Rising Time 9 hours
Total Time 10 hours 15 minutes
Course Bread and Pizza, Breakfast, Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Servings 14 servings
Calories 238 kcal

Ingredients
  

STARTER YEAST

  • 2 tablespoons lukewarm water (temp 105F/40C) (30 grams)
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • teaspoons active dry yeast (3 1/2 grams)
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour (50 grams)

FIRST KNEADING

  • 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)

2ND KNEADING

  • 1 cup all purpose flour (125 grams)
  • 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)

TOPPING

  • 1 large egg white
  • 15-20 whole almonds (more or less)
  • 2-3 tablespoons Pearl or Nib sugar
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Instructions
 

STARTER YEAST

  • 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.

FIRST KNEADING

  • 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.

SECOND KNEADING

  • 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!

TOPPING

  • 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).

    Notes

    Remove the eggs from the fridge about 45-60 minutes before using.
    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.
    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.

    Nutrition

    Calories: 238kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 51mg | Sodium: 132mg | Potassium: 60mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 15g | Vitamin A: 294IU | Calcium: 21mg | Iron: 1mg
    Did You Make This Recipe?Please leave a comment below or pin it to your Pinterest account!

    Updated from March 3, 2018.

    16 Comments

    1. 5 stars
      Excellent result Easter 2023 I used raisins and candied orange I made in a traditional al dove paper case I made over 3 days – starter dough Thursday night first knead Friday night allowed to rise overnight second knead Saturday morning and cooked Saturday night left at room temp the whole time (house not heated) Delicious thank you for the clear instructions I have been searching for a good recipe for 10 years and this is the best Jane

    2. Can the preparation steps be spread over 2 days, by refrigerating the dough? I don’t have the time to devote 910 hours in one day to bake this bread. However,the end result is no doubt worth the effort!

      1. Hi Martine, yes I don’t see why not, be sure to bring the dough to room temperature before moving to the next step. I would about 30-45 minutes should be enough. Let me know how it goes.

    3. I really like your recipes. Have you put your recipes i a cookbook? I would love to have the book.

    4. 5 stars
      Thank you for posting this recipe! I’ve always enjoyed the traditional Colomba at Easter growing up in an Italian family and this will be my first attempt at making it. Very detailed instructions, thank you! One suggestion would be to update the prep time at the top of your recipe to 9 hours as the process and rest time before cooking appears to come to 9 hours. I just find this helpful when I’m planning the preparation schedule for large holiday meals. Great job and thanks again for sharing!

      1. Hi Kristine thanks so much and yes I just updated the recipe to show the time for the rising of the dough. Have a wonderful Easter.

    5. I’ve made easter breads before but I am going to try yours…..I use my kitchen aid with the dough hook attachment. I am a little confused on how to do that with this recipe. I have always made the starter and let it ferment. Then I add the dough to the starter and mix with the dough hook adding the fruit and zest once combined…..then let it rise until doubled…..then shape and let rise again until ready to bake. The kneading in the butter in intervals is what confuses me. Does that mean I keep returning it to the kitchen aid every time??

      1. Hi Lorraine, I started with a hook attachment (but it can be done all by hand) and I also combined the starter and sweet dough (first rise) with the dough hook, the two times I added the butter (and chips or candied fruit) I kneaded it by hand, the butter is soft so it combine without a problem. Hope that helps. Have a great weekend.

    6. Ohhhh, I am very familiar with La Colomba! When I lived in Sardegna, a friend told me I had to have it! I went and picked one up. I think I ate nearly the entire thing in one sitting! Earlier this week, I bought one from a local chocolate factory. SO fresh and delicious. I’m happy to see this recipe — now I can enjoy them all year. Yikes!

    7. I love baking with yeast Rosemary, and this is such a lovely authentic recipe! My boys will appreciate the chocolate chips as they are not candied fruit fans either. Thanks for sharing this just in time for Easter!

    8. 5 stars
      This is new to me, but looks delicious. I think I’ll just need you to send me one, because I’m afraid I don’t have the patience for yeast breads.

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