Colomba: a traditional Italian Easter bread shaped like a dove.

Italian Easter Colomba Sweet bread

Easter 2013

You may not be the most beautiful dove but you have a sweet, buttery heart. You may not be not the softest but I have made you with stone-ground artisan flour, organic sugar and eggs, homemade candied orange peel and only 1/4 teaspoon yeast. I’ve made you with love and all the necessary time.

Actually, I did not have the time to make a Colomba. Tomorrow we open our B&B for the season. In the last few days I have laundered 30 blankets, cleaned, waxed and polished every object and piece of furniture and stocked the refrigerator and larder. I am tired and sleepless but I wanted to make something special for my family for Easter.

There is always time for something good, isn’t it?

Poolish (pre-ferment):

  • 60 gr flour (scant 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoon yogurt with live cultures (e.g. a probiotic)
  • enough water to make a very thick batter (1 and 1/2 to 2 tablespoon)
  • 1 gr ( 1/4 teaspoon) dry yeast

1st dough:

  • 260 gr ( 1 and 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoon) good-quality strong flour
  • 75 gr (1/4 cup) light brown sugar
  • 100 gr (4/5 stick) butter
  • 100 ml (2/5 cup) water at room temperature
  • 1 egg

2nd dough:

  • 60 gr flour (scant 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoon soft butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


  • 1/4 cup regular sugar
  • 1/8 cup cornstarch


  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • icing sugar
  • 4 tablespoon chopped candied orange peel

The Easter  Colomba, a classic Italian dove-shaped bread, was invented in 1930 by Angelo Motta to extend the success of industrially produced pandoro and panettone. All of them are descendents of the brioche-like sweet breads made for the Italian Renaissance courts 5 centuries ago.

In our home, we stay away from mass-produced holiday breads. As I mentioned in my breadmaker Pandoro recipe, commercial Christmas breads have a shelf life of a year. They can’t possibly be healthy for you.

Making such a large brioche is work and time intensive, but the results are so splendid and worth the wait that I always try to make at least one for the holidays.

I simplified the method using the dough cycle of my bread-maker as follows:

Day 1, early afternoon

In a glass or ceramic bowl mix the poolish ingredients, cover with a tea towel and let it rest until evening. As I am using only a minimal amount of yeast you will see a very small increase of volume, don’t worry. This allows for flexibility in the preparation. The dough raises so slowly that if you do anything one hour later nothing gets spoiled. In addition the dough has the time to develop flavor with hardly any acidity.

Early evening

Assemble all ingredients for 1st Dough in the bread-maker and add the poolish. Start the shortest dough cycle (mine takes 45 min). After 10 min or so open the lid quickly to check if the dough has formed. If it’s too dry, add a little water to obtain a soft dough. Knead quickly by hand, then close the lid and let the dough rise until the next day.

Day 2, morning

Open the bread-maker lid and add all ingredients for 2nd Dough to the previous one. Start the dough cycle once again. When finished leave it in the breadmaker with the lid closed.

Day 2, afternoon

Transfer the dough onto a floured worktop. The dough is very soft at this stage. Use a plastic flat spatula to handle it. Lightly knead in the candied orange peel.

Transfer the dough  into a generously buttered dove-shaped mold. The first time I made this recipe, I did not have the dove mold, so I cut it into 3 cylinders, a longer one for the body and two for the wings. I then shaped it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper as shown in the picture.

if you don't have a dove mold, use parchment paper and 4 ramekins to keep it in shape
if you don’t have a dove mold, use parchment paper and ramekins to keep it in shape, it will not be as pretty but delicious nevertheless.

You can also use an aluminum disposable pan and shape it as a “dove” bending it around 4 mugs and line it with moist parchment paper.

In case you decide to acquire a mold, either  for this recipe you will need one that can hold a 750 gr cake (7- 8 cups, 11 x 8 inches).

Cover carefully with a light tea towel and let it raise for another hour or so in a draft-free area of your kitchen.

For the glaze: mix sugar, cornstarch and enough water to make a thick paste. Drizzle or pipe the glaze over the dove. Be gentle or it will deflate! Sprinkle the surface with whole almonds, a few additional slivers of candied peel and icing sugar or sugar pearls.

Bake in preheated oven at 170 °C (340 °F) for 40 min or until beautifully golden. Cool at room temperature and unmold when at room temperature.


this is the Colomba in its proper dove shape mould
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  1. I have never heard of this bread, its tradition or origin. That’s why I love your blog, Letizia. Always learning something new. It looks like angel bread! I bet you never thought you would be a master of so many things when you took your doctorate in etymology! Cleaning, cooking – hosting. Congratulations on the new opening!

  2. Hi Valerie, thank you so much for your ever kind words! I have never had angel bread but the name sound fantastic. I think these sweet breads have all a common origin, i.e. bread dough sweetened with sugar and enriched with butter and eggs. It’s so much better than normal cake. Takes longer to make but it’s worth the effort!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this! I’m looking forward to trying it. I hope you don’t mind, I linked to this post on my blog, as I wrote an entire entry about colomba. Such is my love for this miracle of baked perfection.

  4. Thank you Frank, if you make it in a loaf shape you don’t need to wait until next year. This breadmaker method is really not too time consuming as the machine does most of the work, you only need to be home for a week end 🙂

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