Traditional Italian Colomba Bread

March 31, 2016  •  Breads, Breakfast,

colomba-slicedIf you read Monday’s post about my visit to Gustiamo, it will come as no surprise to you that I wound up intent on trying my hand at making the Italian sweet bread known as colomba. While it’s traditionally eaten for Easter in Italy, it’s actually a flavorful semi-sweet breakfast treat that would be excellent on any brunch spread.colomba-bigaColomba is a multi-day process because you make the biga (starter) the day before you make the bread, and on the second day the bread needs to rise twice…colomba-dough-risingcolomba-read-to-bake…once in the bowl, and then once after you’ve shaped the loaf. Depending on your weather, each of those rises can take a bit of time. I like to let bread rise in the oven with the oven light on to give it just a tiny bit of warmth, and that took about 3 hours for me. When I shaped it into a loaf, it was ready in about 90 minutes.colomba-1I baked mine the night before Easter, and as luck would have it, I was late for a dinner so had to remove the bread about 5-10 minutes before it was actually finished.colomba-bakedThis turned out to work well as I put it back in the hot oven on Easter morning to bake another 10 minutes, giving us a nice, toasty warm loaf to enjoy. So work backwards from your event date when making this special treat. A couple of notes: I candied my own orange peel, but you can buy candied orange to include in the recipe if you want. I used less flour because I live in a dry climate, but you may need a bit more. Timing for baking in Colorado likely is different than other places, so use your best judgment. I based this recipe on the one I found on the King Arthur flour site, but I don’t think either of our loaves looks particularly like the dove it’s supposed to symbolize!

Traditional Italian Colomba Bread
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 12-16
  • 3 cups flour (all-purpose is fine), divided
  • ½ cup cool water
  • 1⅛ teaspoons rapid rise instant yeast, divided
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, white reserved for topping
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon orange oil
  • ⅓ cup candied orange peel (see notes)
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit (I used Craisins - no need to chop them)
  • 3 tablespoons almond flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
  1. Combine 1 cup of of the flour with the water and ⅛ teaspoon of the yeast; stir together, cover, and leave at room temperature overnight to make the starter.
  2. The next day, combine the starter with the remaining flour and yeast, salt, sugar, softened butter, eggs, vanilla, and orange extract in the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment to bring the ingredients together, then switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes.
  3. Knead the candied orange peel and the dried fruit into the dough, return it to the mixer bowl, cover, and let rise until 2-3 times the originally size, about 2-4 hours.
  4. Divide the dough into one piece that is about ⅔ of the ball, and one piece that is about ⅓ of the ball. Place the dough on a Silpat liner or parchment paper on a baking sheet, and shape the larger part into a long "body" for the dove shape and make an indentation partway up to insert the smaller piece to form the "wings" of the dove shape. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about 1-2 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the reserved egg white with the almond flour and sugar and stir together to make a glaze, Gently brush the glaze over the bread, then sprinkle the almonds over the top. Bake for 8 minutes, and then turn the pan around and bake for 8 more minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees, tent with foil, and continue baking until the internal temperature reaches about 190 degrees and the bread is baked fully, about 30 more minutes.
  6. Let cool slightly before slicing. Serve with honey, butter, or just plain with a nice cup of Italian coffee.
To candy orange peel, use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer peel of the orange, and then chop into smaller pieces. Combine ½ cup water with 1 cup sugar and simmer the orange peel in the sugar water until it becomes very thick and bubbly. Strain the melted sugar, and then toss the peels with some fresh granulated sugar.


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