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Italian Dessert Recipe: Colomba Cake

What panettone is to Christmas, la colomba pasquale is to Easter. This “dove cake” is traditionally made in the northern region of Lombardy for Easter, but can be found in bakeries all over the boot this time of year. The soft, flaky bread offers up a delicately sweet blend of flavors. In its classic version you’ll find orange zest and peels, perhaps some dried fruit, and a sugary glaze topped with sliced almonds.

The cake is, of course, shaped like a colomba, a dove: symbol of springtime and the Holy Spirit of Catholicism. Whether you bake this up for Easter or in celebration of the season in general, you’re sure to impress guests with a truly authentic Italian dessert.

La colomba takes quite a bit of kneading and mixing to perfect its sticky dough, but don’t let that discourage you from trying your hand at it. It’s a rather labor-intensive treat and requires some preparation, but that’s the case for most any Italian cake worth its salt.

Colomba Easter Cake

Ingredients:

Biga:
1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup water
zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup flour

Dough:
1/2 tablespoon yeast
1 cup milk
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
8 oz butter (soften – not melted)
3 egg yolks
1 º cup sugar
1/2 cup candied orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons (1/4 ounce) orange zest
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) candied orange peel
1 cup chopped dried fruit of your choice

Topping:
1 egg white
1/3 cup (1 1/4 ounces) almond flour (or finely ground almonds, blanched or unblanched)
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons coarse sugar (pearl sugar or sparkling white sugar)
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Directions:

  1. A day ahead: Dissolve yeast in water that’s about 110 F and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar, the zest of an orange and Ω cup of the flour. Combine all ingredients and let the mixture rest in the fridge covered with plastic wrap for 24 hours. This starter is called the biga.
  2. The next day, dissolve the other yeast in warm milk (about 110F) and let it rest for 5 minutes. Add the biga, the flour and knead the dough for 5 minutes. Add the rest of the sugar and eggs and continue kneading until the dough is soft and elastic, or about 15 minutes.
  3. Next, add the softened butter at room temperature a little at a time while kneading. Add the salt and continue kneading until the dough is soft, shiny and elastic or about 15 minutes. Add the orange zest, dried fruit and candied peel. Mix until combined.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it somewhere warm (about 85F). Let the dough rise for 2.5-3.5 hours, until it’s doubled in size.
  5. Now take the dough and turn it out onto a lightly greased work surface. Deflate it by punching it down. Divide it in half, forming one half into a log about 12 inches long. With the other half, create a slightly shorter and fatter log, pulling it into a sort of crescent shape to create ìwings.î
  6. Place the longest log lengthwise on a parchment-lined baking sheet and then lay the shorter log across it, forming a cross. Cover it with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rest until it has doubled in size. Be prepared to at least another 3 hours!
  7. Once you’re about ready to bake the cake, beat the egg white until it’s foamy. Then whisk in the almond flour or ground almonds and sugar.
  8. When the bread has risen, gently spread the almond mixture on top of the dough, careful not to push too hard and deflate it. Dust coarse sugar and sliced almonds to finish.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes in preheated oven at 350F. When baked, bread should be lightly browned and thermometer inserted in its center should read 195F. Cool on wire rack. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from epicurious.

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