You know when Easter is approaching in Italy as in all supermarkets, bakeries, and delicatessen shops “Colomba” are filling shelves and shop windows.
Colomba means DOVE, but if your fantasy is running wild thinking of shops filled up with birds..well, you have to stop and rewind.
After all, we are talking about a country famous for the best food in the world.
Inside our last year post about Easter Celebration, we introduced it briefly among all the other delicacies that have been on the majority of Italian tables.
So what are we exactly talking about?
Colomba is a fragrant and delicate cake, shaped like a dove, with a dough-like Panettone but crafted following a slightly lighter recipe. As you know, Italians take their food very seriously, and this special Easter cake is a registered PAT (Prodotto Agroalimentari Tradizionali). It means that Italian Law regulates ingredients and characteristics.
But why baking a cake in the shape of a Dove, you might wonder?
As always, many legends are mysteriously wrapped around the invention of our sweet pastry.
For sure, we know that Colomba was created in Northern Italy, in the region of Lombardy!
The first legend goes back to the year 612 when an Irish Abbot Columbanus story and his pilgrims visited the Queen of the Longobards, Teodolinda.
Her Majesty offered a great feast to the Irish Abbot and his pilgrims, but they refused it as the food was too rich to be consumed while respecting lent. The Queen felt very offended, so Columbanus, with great diplomacy, decided to turn around the awkward situation by blessing the meat before eating. The Abbot raised his right hand, and while he was doing the cross sign, the rich dishes turned into plain white bread loaves, shaped like doves. The Monarch was so impressed that she donated the Monastery of Bobbio to Abbot’s order.
The second legend takes place in 1176, when Lombardian celebrated their victory over the Roman Empire. It is said that two doves, symbolizing the Holy Ghost, appeared on the altar of the chariot carrying the battle standards. Hence, the Colomba commemorates that event and victory: a true case of the role of food in history.
Last but not least, is the third legend, which is an example of how delicious food can change someone’s heart and mind.
A young girl in Pavia baked the cake in the sixth century as a peace offering for the wretched King Albion of the Lombard tribe. He was demanding a tribute from her hometown of Pavia, and he loved the Colomba so much that he spared Pavia.
However, if we look at the facts, the story is that in 1930, Dino Villani, working for Motta, introduced the baked good on the Italian tables. Being so similar to the Christmas Panettone, the company could use the machinery once more and cut the yearly costs.
The industrialized Colomba was launched on the market with a very catchy slogan, “The Easter Colomba by Motta. The cake that tastes of Spring”
How to pick a good quality Colomba?
As previously mentioned, it has to follow the strict regulations of the Decree of 2005 that describe it as: “a pastry baked product soft, obtained by natural fermentation from the sourdough, shaped irregular oval similar to the dove, a soft honeycomb structure elongated, with top glazing and a decoration composed of grains of sugar and at least 2% almonds.”
Many of the ingredients are the same as Panettone: flour, eggs, butter, sugar, yeast, almonds, and sugar glaze.
The taste is delicate and sweet, with a soft and fluffy texture and revealing a honeycomb of air pockets. The subtle aroma of citrus fruit, yeast, and vanilla will be sweeping you off your feet.
Although the original recipe is simple, nowadays, topping and filling are varying from Region to Region. Or simply from baker to baker: every year, pastry chefs are coming up with a different variety to beat the competition.
Just like Panettone, also artisanal Colomba is a product of real love. Don’t be fooled even by the simple ingredients as the procedure is very long.
The dough needs to rest an entire night before having extra flour, eggs, and sugar added. After that, it will have to stay put for at least four hours before going into the oven. Once baked, another 7 hours of rest are needed before getting packaged.
On Easter Day, Colomba will be closing the fabulous feast, often paired with sweet wines such as Moscato or Passito.
However, as Colomba can be found easily in the month following Easter, Italian might carry on eating for a few more weeks for breakfast or as an afternoon snack.
The pastry can be slightly toasted or eaten straight with a good cup of espresso or topped up with Jam, Chocolate spread, or honey!