Colomba – one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made

Colomba, soft, orangey, classy.

Colomba means dove in Italian and it’s a traditional Easter cake. It’s much like panettone – traditional Italian Christmas cake – except it doesn’t have sultanas.

Both colomba and panettone use a biga – or sponge starter. I’ve never attempted panettone because it’s not meant to be easy. Not difficult per se, but the recipe is long and there are various stages during which you really need to concentrate. Plus you need to hang panettone upside down when it’s done (until it ‘sets’). I was almost tempted last year when I found out that Patrick at Bakery Bits had started selling the waxed paper cases you need for panettone but then my mamma’s friend bought an exceptional one back from Italy so I never bothered to make my own.

Then Patrick posted a recipe for colomba and started selling Aroma Veneziana which is rich with citrus and almond oils with a hint of vanilla. He also sells the colomba cases (I found the 750g ample big enough for the recipe below. You can make the cake in a traditional cake tin but the dove shape is traditional). So I decided to try it.

God it was delicious. One of the best things I’ve ever made. So good that I couldn’t believe I’d actually made it myself. (I’m aware Easter has passed now, but this shouldn’t put you off trying it.)

I made a few changes to Patrick’s recipe which I’ve detailed below. I actually made two colomba cakes – retardeding the proof time on my first attempt because I ran out of time (I put it in the fridge at the stage marked * below, because from start to finish this cake takes quite a long time, you really need to start it in the morning) and cooked it for 40 mins. Refrigerating it didn’t seem to affect it at all, if anything I think it was tastier. It was supremely moist – a tiny bit underdone and doughy at the very centre, but unnoticeable to all but me.  I cooked the second one for longer – probably 50 mins and it was more authentic ‘colomba’ but slightly dryer. My oven is ferocious so I cooked at more like 180/190C. Patrick’s tip of putting silver foil on top is one to be followed, as the egg white/sugar coating burns easily. In fact I covered the whole of the colomba for the middle portion of the cooking time.

Anyway, this is what you need to do.

First stage: the sponge

15g caster sugar
100g warm water
3 egg yolks (reserve two egg whites, freeze the others if you don’t know what to do with them immediately)
11g instant dried yeast
70g strong white bread flour

Mix together the sugar and water with the egg yolks; separately, mix together the yeast and flour and add this to the egg/sugar/water mixture. You get a thick batter. cover with cling film and leave for a good 30-40mins until it’s really bubbly and frothy (note: my kitchen is about 20 degrees, if yours is warmer/cooler you’ll nee to adjust the time accordingly).

Second stage: first  dough

The frothing, elastic sponge, as above.
75g warm water
45g very soft unsalted butter
6g dried yeast
210g strong white bread flour

Whisk the water into the sponge, then mix in the butter. Separately mix the flour and yeast together and add these to the sponge. You should have a thick, stick, moist batter. Cover with cling film and leave for about two hours, until doubled in volume.

Third stage: second dough

The first dough,  as above.
145g caster sugar
15g honey
3 egg yolks
grated zest of two oranges
2 teaspoons of Aroma Veneziana (this is my favourite big, I adore the smell and it gives you a hint of the good things to come).
115g very soft unsalted butter
250g strong white bread flour
5g sea salt, finely ground
150g chopped mixed peel

Take your first dough and now mix in the sugar, honey and egg yolks. It’ll look a bit unpromising and ‘separate’ – don’t panic. Add the Aroma Veneziana, the orange zest and butter, then the flour and salt. Now, Patrick didn’t add the mixed peel til later (see his original recipe, link above), but I added mine here too. Mix all together.

Now here, Patrick says to knead until you have a soft, smooth, elastic dough. My dough was sticky and a bit unmanageable so I rested it for ten minutes, then gave it a light knead, rested it for ten minutes, then gave it a light knead, rested it for ten minutes, then gave it a light knead. I did this on a lightly oiled chopping board.

Then I picked up the original recipe which says to put it in a oiled bowl and cover with cling film * and leave to rise ‘dramatically’, Patrick says until it’s about three times the original volume which takes about 3-4 hours.

(For the first colomba this * is where I refrigerated it and the next morning, took it out and let it sit all morning until it got to room temperature and then started to rise ‘dramatically’.)

When that’s done, Patrick cuts his dough in half and puts it in the case (after rolling it), one half making the ‘wings’ and one half the head to tail bit (so they overlap). I didn’t do this, I cut three pieces to fit head to tail, and two for the wings, rolled it out to flatten it put it in the case and pinched the dough together.  

I found the case was quite floppy once the dough was in it, so I sat it on a baking tray and when the time came put the whole lot in the oven.

At this stage you let it sit and rise again for about 2-3 hours, until doubled in volume, covered with a damp tea towel. Mine easily took more like three hours. 

Fourth stage: the delicious topping

2 egg whites
25g caster sugar
25g ground almonds

crushed sugar cubes
flaked almonds

Just before baking you make a paste of the topping ingredients: 2 egg whites, 25g caster sugar, 25g ground almonds and put the whole lot on top of the colomba, spread out with a pastry brush/back of spoon to make sure every bit is covered. Please don’t miss this bit – it’s the topping which really makes it. Scatter broken up sugar cubes and flaked almonds on top – I used three sugar cubes and that was plenty.

Cook for 40 mins at 200C and check if it’s done by putting a skewer in. If it’s burning put silver foil on top. Even if it looks really done – do check with the skewer, if it comes out really gunky it’s not done yet. 

I can’t even begin to tell you how great this is. Patrick says it keeps for four days in a tin, but I made my two a week ago and although one is gone, the other is still superb. But if you do have any left you can always toast it/butter it. We eat it in the morning dipped in caffe latte.

This recipe seems long – it is. But take your time and try it. It’s pretty fool proof considering the result!

Let me know how you get on…and don’t save it just for Easter!

22 thoughts on “Colomba – one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made

  1. veryberryhandmade

    Ooooh – coincidence… I was reading about these the other day, and thinking it all looked a bit complicated.. But you might be changing my mind – it sounds absolutely delicious.

  2. Annalisa Barbieri

    You'd easily manage it Ali. It's complicated in the sense that it's in stages and it takes all day but it's not hard IYKWIM. I'd be really keen to know how it works out if you try it.

  3. Annalisa Barbieri

    Thanks Joanna. It was beautiful. I was really surprised that I"d made it (it was one of those sort of things!). My family (Italian) were really really impressed. I have never made panettone, but want to. Bit unnerved though.

  4. azélia

    Looks good Annalisa, I've seen the recipe last week in one of my text books as I've been looking at sweet yeast loaves. The panattone one there was a yeast quick version which said it was really a brioche mock-up but the longer version was a hybrid and as you've mentioned taking its time.I also looked at the recipe for this one. Interesting to see the sponge here has egg in it.I should really make this one, pandoro & panattone….and see what I like best…and obviously end up very fat as a result!

  5. Annalisa Barbieri

    Azelia, just been looking at your gorgeous blog. Some AMAZING looking breads on there. I will have to read through for some tips. Your slashing is very good. Mine is very rudimentary.Yes, there are many recipes for panettone which results in something very nice, but more like a brioche. I've never attempted panettone or pandoro – keen to know if you do how it goes! The best looking (ie authentic) recipe I've seen seems to be this one:, as posted by Joanna at Zeb Bakes.

  6. Agnes Baldacchino

    Am tempted to try this, would like to give it to a family who really know their Italian customs. Just to be sure that I am understanding this correctly, The sponge gets added to the first dough and then to the second. So you are always adding to the original sponge. Am I correct. This seems to be the easiest recipe and method and would just like to clarify before I go ahead and make it. Many thanks,
    Agnes baldacchino

  7. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

    Hello Agnes. Yes that’s right. You are basically augmenting the first dough with the other ingredients, so you only ever have one dough on the go. Does that make sense? Do shout if not and I’ll talk you through it some more. My family is Italian and they loved it. It takes time but have faith, take your time and enjoy it.

    1. Agnes Baldacchino

      Thanks, that cleared things for me, from you tube video’s I’ve seen the ‘sponge’ is almost a starter. Will be using your recipe and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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  9. Agnes Baldacchino

    Made two Colomba today 🙂 I’m baking them in the morning so they stay really fresh. Rather than difficult, i would call it a labour of love, it’s waiting for the dough to prove that takes time, but made beds and went shopping in between 🙂 Went the extra mile and made my own candied peel too, I’m cooking it in foil dishes, as I tried to make a dove like shape, will see what that turns out like, won’t look right I’m sure, but the proof will be in the eating, lets say:) Even uncooked, it smells lovely and orangey and can’t wait for Easter Sunday to tuck in. Many thanks for posting this.

  10. Agnes Baldacchino

    Lovely, Taste really good, had a piece with strawberries and ice cream with orange caramel sauce,as a desert then the rest we’ve been having with tea. Well worth the effort. Don’t leave it in the dish overnight though, being made of yeast, it kept rising and it rose all over the tray I had left them to sit in. No harm came to them though, just a bit messy and had to transfer the mixture to baking tins.

  11. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

    I was wondering how you’d got on. What do you mean about the trays? Did you keep it in the fridge? If so how cold is your fridge? I do find it needs to be at 3 or 4 degrees to really slow down/arrest the yeast development. I’m so glad you liked it. I made one at the weekend but I slightly burned it. Not sure how as I’ve made it many times now but I did cook it in my small oven and whilst it tasted really nice in the middle, I thought it was a bit dry in places and a bit burned on top!! I have it ‘neat’, dipped into my morning coffee. Well done! And thanks so much for coming back and telling us how it went.

    1. Agnes Baldacchino

      I put the mixture in aluminium foil dishes to cook them, then put them on a tray on the kitchen work top. (I tried to mold them into dove shapes, found something on you tube – looked nothing like doves though ) I didn’t put them in the fridge, thus they kept on growing ! I love the topping and will do them again. Don’t know how to put photos up otherwise I would show you my creation. 🙂

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  13. mabelwashington

    Thank you for this! I made a trial one a few weeks ago which was delicious except I burned the top a bit – didn’t get the foil on soon enough. Going to have another go but thought it was worth checking – what size eggs do you use?

  14. Annalisa Barbieri Post author

    So sorry for the delay. Yes I often have a problem with the top burning. I use medium sized eggs although they vary as they come from my chickens. Definitely more medium than large however.


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