We are in the middle of Holy Week and I am traveling in Europe. Everywhere we have been, be it Italy, Switzerland, France or Germany there are signs of the upcoming holiday. Decorations in shop windows, church bells ringing in abundance, colored eggs at the breakfast buffet, bunny shaped breads at the bakeries, chocolate sheep. There is a beautiful sense of the impending arrival of a joyous celebration together with definite signs of spring. I love the celebration here.
Long before I knew we would be in Europe for vacation, I had decided that this was the year I would make la colomba possibly my favorite Italian holiday bread. Colomba means dove and the bread is placed in a dove shaped paper mold representing the Holy Spirit fo Easter. Similar to the panettone, it is studded with candied fruit and topped with pearl sugar but I much prefer colomba to panettone. I have always been intimidated by this bread but once I found that I could by the paper molds on Amazon, I was inspired to try it. I scoured the internet for a recipe that seemed feasible in a home kitchen and that would produce something that was a reasonable replica of the gorgeous breads of the master pastry chefs of Italy.
I found the recipe that I wanted to try at the website Laura in the Kitchen. Her explanations were solid, the video that accompanies the recipe was most helpful and the recipe was accessible. The secret to a delicious colomba - yeasty and sweet but not too sweet - is the biga (starter) and the topping. Do not skimp on either of these steps.
For a first attempt, I was pretty happy with my colomba. I did make the mistake of not lowering the top shelf in the oven and my bread grew right into it while baking so the top was a bit burnt and I lost a little chunk of it. But the flavor was quite delicious. I did substitute the golden raisins and added mini chocolate chips instead - a lovely pairing with the candied orange peel.
If you want a show stopper special cake for Easter, you should definitely try this. It is not nearly as intimidating as you might think and the results are buonissimo!
Buona Pasqua a tutti!
Recipe (courtesy of www.laurainthekitchen.com)
For the Biga: (to be made 16 hrs in advance)
1-1/4 cup of All Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp of Instant Yeast
2/3 cup of Water
For the dough:
3-1/2 cups of All Purpose Flour
3/4 cup of Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup of Golden Raisins (I used mini chocolate chips)
1/2 cup of Candied Orange Peels (I used 3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp of Salt
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
Zest of 1 Orange
1/2 cup of Milk
2-1/2 tsp of Instant Yeast
5 Tbsp of Butter, softened at room temperature and cut into small pieces
For the Topping:
1 Egg Whites
1-1/2 Tbsp of Ground Almonds
1 Tbsp of Granulated Sugar
2 Tbsp of Pearled Sugar
A Handful of Whole Almonds
1) About 16 hours in advance, make your biga by mixing together all 3 ingredients, cover with plastic wrap and set it aside on the counter for 16 hours.
2) In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, add all of your ingredients in including the biga, knead for about 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed.
3) Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set it aside to rise for a couple of hours.
4) Grease a colomba mold (or make one out of aluminum foil) and set aside.
5) Deflate the dough, dump it onto a clan surface (try not to add any flour if you can avoid it, yes it will be tacky but shouldn't be wet or runny) cut it into 2 pieces to fit the mold and gently place it in while pressing it with your fingers to cover the base of the mold.
6) Grease a piece of plastic wrap (this is so that the dough won’t be disturbed when we uncover it) place it greasy side down on the colomba and let it rise for another hour and a half or until the dough just reaches the top of the mold.
7) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and make the topping. In a small bowl, whisk the eggwhite until frothy, add the granulated sugar and ground almonds, mix them in and gently pat this mixture all over the surface of the colomba making sure not to deflate the rise, sprinkle the pearled sugar all over, dot some whole almonds on top and pop this bad boy into the oven to bake for about 35 minutes (place it on a baking sheet first) then let it cool for about half an hour or so before slicing into it.