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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!



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