Colomba di Pasqua, Semi-Successful

Be honest, do you see a dove here?

Me neither. How about now?

Okay, I admit it’s a stretch. But unable to find the paper dove-shaped molds that I should have used to bake Colomba di Pasqua, the traditional Italian Easter bread, I resorted to trying to make my own. Two 3-inch deep, 10-inch diameter paper pans with a few strategically placed staples were going to have to do.

Next time I will cut about an inch off the top of the pan so the dove can rise and soar above it instead of being trapped in a paper cage. Actually, there won’t be a next time for these makeshift molds, as I’m going now to order my genuine Italian Colomba pans for next year.

I adapted the recipe from the English translation of Cresci: The Art of Leavened Dough by Iginio Massari and Achille Zoia. I have had this opulent (and unfortunately out-of-print) book for a while, and regularly open it when I’m in the mood for a good drool, but had never baked from it before.

The formula is remarkably similar to the one I use for Panettone, but a little sweeter and richer. I built the sweet starter according to the same method I use for that other classic Italian holiday bread. Instead of using my tried-and-true mixing method for sweet enriched breads, where the sugar is added gradually and the dough is mixed to full gluten development before adding the butter, I followed the method given in Cresci, adding sugar initially in the first dough, and butter and sugar at once in the final dough.

I didn’t even check the gluten (what was I thinking?) and it came back to haunt me. When I tried to shape the poor bird… well, I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves (can’t you hear them saying “ACK!” ?):

Of course the real reason for making sure your gluten is well-developed is to ensure the rise and texture you want, and I have to say this was pretty good, better than I expected. Moist and shreddy, but a bit too dense.

Next time I’m sticking with my usual mixing method, which is described in my Panettone post if you’re interested.

I’m sending this semi-successful Colomba di Pasqua to Cinzia (Cindystar) for her Happy Baking Easter! event.

Colomba di Pasqua
(Adapted from Cresci: The Art of Leavened Dough by Iginio Massari and Achille Zoia)

Yield: 2400 g (2 loaves)

Time (assumes you are starting with a mature stiff starter):

  • Build the starter: 12 hours, at 4-hour intervals
  • Mix and ferment first dough: 12.5 hours at 75F
  • Mix final dough: 20 minutes
  • Fermentation of final dough: 1 hour, with folds at 20 and 40 minutes
  • Divide and shape: 15 minutes
  • Proof: 6 hours at 85F (longer at room temperature)
  • Bake: one hour

Sweet Starter Ingredients:

  • 20 g stiff (50% hydration) sourdough starter
  • 110 g flour, divided
  • 55 g water, divided

First Dough Ingredients:

  • 205 g fine granulated sugar
  • 205 g water
  • 548 g flour
  • 0.5 g instant yeast (osmotolerant SAF Gold, if possible)
  • 144 g sweet starter
  • 137 g egg yolk (about 7 yolks)
  • 171 g butter, softened

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • all of the first dough
  • 137 g flour
  • 10.3 g (1-2/3 t.) salt
  • 13.7 g (scant 4 t.) diastatic malt powder
  • seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 137 g egg yolk
  • 103 g fine granulated sugar
  • 34 g honey
  • 240 g butter, softened
  • 411 g candied orange peel

Glaze Ingredients:

  • 64 g granulated sugar
  • 32 g ground almonds
  • 8 g ground toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 g (3/4 t.) cocoa powder
  • 4 g corn flour
  • 4 g potato flour
  • 24 g egg white (this is how much the recipe called for; I used quite a bit more to get a spreadable consistency)

Topping Ingredients:

  • powdered sugar
  • pearl sugar
  • whole blanched almonds


  1. To build the sweet starter: Mix 20 g stiff starter, 20 g flour, and 10 g water. Ferment for 4 hours at 85F. Discard all but 30 g of the starter, feed it with 30 g of flour and 15 g of water, and ferment for 4 hours. For the third feeding, start with 60 g of starter, add 60 g of flour and 30 g of water, and again ferment for 4 hours. Scale out the amount needed for the first dough.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook, mix the first dough sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. Add the flour, yeast, and sweet starter and mix for 15 minutes, then add the butter and egg yolk and mix until they are incorporated and the dough is smooth.
  3. Cover the bowl and ferment the first dough for about 12 hours at warm room temperature (75F), until tripled in size.
  4. Again at the mixer, add the final dough flour, salt, malt, vanilla, and half the egg yolk to the first dough and mix until smooth. Add the sugar, honey, butter, and remaining egg yolk and mix until smooth. Add the candied orange peel and mix until evenly incorporated.
  5. Place the dough in a buttered container and proof at room temperature for one hour. I added folds at 20 and 40 minutes because the dough seemed excessively slack.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a buttered counter. Divide it in half, and each half into two pieces. Shape one piece into a long cylinder to form the wings, and the other into a fatter cylinder for the body.
  7. Proof at 85F for about six hours, until the dough has about tripled in size. I did this inside my oven with a bowl of hot water (replenished often) to maintain temperature and humidity.
  8. Preheat the oven to 340F, with the rack in the center position.
  9. To make the glaze, pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor until fine. Whisk in egg white until the consistency is barely able to be thinly spread.
  10. Spread the glaze in a thin layer on the proofed loaves. Top with blanched almonds, pearl sugar, and a heavy dusting of powdered sugar.
  11. Place the loaves directly on the oven rack and bake at 340F for one hour.
  12. Cool on a wire rack.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Dove or no dove, once sliced it looks beautiful and doubtless tastes fantastic. Good job!

    I messed up my first Colomba attempt – everything was going swimmingly until the final build when I added egg yolks and flour at the same time and ended up with dense bits of eggy flour in an otherwise smooth dough..further mixing ended up tearing the dough.

    On the second attempt now – wish me luck!


  2. says

    I am afraid your dove won’t be able to fly that high (smile).
    Glad you made it Susan, and it looks so delicious too.

  3. says

    Well I already made my dad his yearly Easter babka, but it is your recipe I use for their yearly holiday panettone (did I mention my parents have a thing for sweet yeast breads?) so now I think I must try this one as well. Looks fabulous, despite the snafus. And the bird intro was hysterical. :)

  4. martina says

    Well, uhm, maybe the dove has flied away and you have left the nest! Btw I don’t think it’s a big deal… when I was a kid there was a lot of fight for who starts which part of Colomba in the Easter dinner: wings, tail o head?! After a few discussion some adult took away the beloved bird and gave us in slice… which part? I never know! So enjoy! cheers Martina

  5. says

    Ah dove or not to dove, the taste is the question! And to my it looks just wonderful! Wonderful bread.
    You’re just lucky to be able to order some real molds, I probably will have to make one again myself next year :-(

  6. says

    Ah! Don’t worry… I’ve yet to see a colomba that looks exactly like a dove, they are always a bit “abstract”. Who wan’t to cut into a dove anyway!

    I love picking off an eating the almonds on the top – always get told off for it.

  7. caroline says

    Can you tell me about the Cresci book? Are all of the formulas in very large volume thus needing to be reduced for home baking? I am interested in it after reading the list of recipe formulas on Amazon but I am somewhat hesitant at having to recalculate all the recipes. Thanks in advance for any info you can share about the cookbook. Also have you made any other formulas. Caroline

  8. bread lover says

    Caroline, I also have the cresci book. To answer your question about the formulas, yes they have to be reduced. I am in the process of gathering ingredients to make Gubana from it. I have a electrolux dlx, and I am using 1/4 recipe.

    Also the cresci book can still be found. Mine was bought here years ago, but I think they are still selling it., btw it is going for $200.

    one last thing, they are sold out now it seems but Golda’s kitchen also sells the molds for the Colomba. they are larger than the ones at fantes though. Hope this wasn’t too long

  9. says

    Susan…that’s excellent!
    And I am sure the day after texture and taste were much better, weren’t they?
    I am still on skiing holidays and have no much time for internet connection, but when back home I will compare all recipes I recieved and check out differences and equalities.
    But…I don’t know if I read right…did you use 1 kilo and half of candied orange peel???
    Hope you had a lovely Easter Day!

  10. says

    Cinzia, thanks for picking up that typo — it should be 411, not 1411 grams of peel; fixed now. Thanks for your event, too, so much fun to see everyone’s versions!

  11. says

    I bought the colomba molds at the Sur la Table in the Ferry Building for $.45 each. They may not carry them all the time, but they should have them around now. I am not sure where you live. E-mail me if you would like some, I think I have 6 left, and I won’t make a colomba for another year. I live 20′ north of SF.


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