If there’s something that’s as deeply ingrained in Italian cuisine as pizza, it’s the love of desserts and traditional cakes. And we’re not talking about over-the-top decorated tall-standing cakes. Nope. Simple and sophisticated - that’s how Italians do it! Gourmand or not, fabled, naturally-leavened cakes from Italy usually make, or from now on will make it to your or your friend's Christmas dinner, too. We’re more than sure all the enthusiast foodies are already familiar with revered Italian seasonal cakes and their significance. If you’re an avid reader or even a shopper, there’s no way you have not heard about panettone or its sister cake, pandoro, and how they were born. Well, we’ve dedicated lengthy blogs, or more like, love letters from our palate to Italian cakes, and there’s just one out of the big three we’re missing - traditional Colomba!
If you’ve ever been to Italy, or maybe even hosted ex-pats at your dinner party, you know how serious they take celebrations, festivities, and good times. As a general rule goes, Italians have a cake and dessert for every occasion! Of course, Easter is no exception, since along with Christmas, it’s one of the most big-deal holidays in the country. Its significance can be tasted with Colomba, Italian Easter cake, which usually prettifies the everyday menu, and celebratory dinners, too. The dove-shaped delight might look like a simple dessert, yet its history is shrouded in mystery and culinary lore we will never get tired of telling. If you’re up for discovering more about Italian Easter cake, how can you make it at home, and, of course, for impatient foodies, where to buy one, come along!
What Exactly Is Italian Colomba Cake?
It might sound like we’re exaggerating, but the Colomba cake is an inseparable part of Italian gastronomic traditions. The Easter treat resembles panettone and pandoro, two of the most famous Christmas-time cakes in Italy, and it’s made with similar ingredients, too, such as flour, eggs, butter, raisins, and candied fruits. Just like panettone and pandoro, Italian Easter cake takes a lot of patience, practice, and peace of mind to make at home, but if you get it right, it will turn out airy, light, and pleasantly fluffy, plus it’s going to last you for days! However, it takes more than 24 hours to rise and double in size, and sculpting the dough in a dove shape is even more challenging than one would expect, but, hey, there’s no challenge you can’t take on when you put your mind to it, right?
During the Easter season, you will meet at least one traditional Italian Colomba cake at every Italian dinner table, prettified with sprinkles of almonds and sugar pearl. However, the flavor characteristics of the cake vary from region to region. The famous Easter cake is often traced back to the Middle Ages, but it was commercially produced only in the 20th century. So, just before we get to the nitty-gritty of all the ingredients necessary to make Italian Colomba cake, here are some of our favorite note-worthy culinary tales about how this revered cake was born!
The Legend Behind It!
Looking at Colomba cake, the first thing you usually notice is the unique shape, guaranteed to make you want to google the symbolism behind it. Well, that’s why we’re here for. The traditional Italian Easter cake is shaped like a dove - it’s just proof that not everyone can sculpt like Bernini. But, that’s not all - the name, Colomba di Pasqua, actually translates to Easter Dove, too, hinting that there’s more to the story than confusing yet pretty looks.
Some of the most famous tales about the creations of Colomba cake are traced back to Pavia. During the 7th century, the Queen of Lombardy hosted Irish pilgrims guided by Saint Columbanus. Being the exemplarily generous host, the Queen offered the guests every royal delicacy, but the guests refused because of the Lent period. According to the legend, Saint Columbanus transformed a succulent feast into white dove-shaped bread, which soon inspired Colomba cake.
The second origin story is a little less friendly than this one. According to this culinary lore, Colomba cake was created as a peace offering, gifted to King Alboino not to sack the village of Pavia. The glimmering dove-shaped cake indeed worked its magic and got itself a happy ending!
You might be wondering how any of these two legends explain the symbolism behind the name and shape, and, indeed, they don’t. It’s the story of Legnano that tackles the topic of culinary etymology. When Longobards were preparing for the Battle of Legnano, one of the leaders saw two white doves calmly taking seats on the insignia, interpreting the scene as a miraculous symbol of a peaceful victory over the Holy Roman Empire. So, dove-shaped cakes were born to celebrate the occasion.
All the culinary tales aside, commercial Colomba cake is traced back to Angelo Motta, founder of the famous Italian brand, Motta. The Milanese company was inspired by the classic recipe of panettone and pandoro, and that’s why the Italian Easter cake mainly calls for the same ingredients – flour, eggs, butter, and, of course, candied fruits, too. Some might say Motta created panettone but made it Easter-exclusive, but it wouldn’t be an accurate judgment of our favorite cake. There’s so much more to Italian Colomba than meets the eye! It has a perfectly pillowy texture juxtaposed with crunchy skin due to nutty toppings and pearl sugar - something neither panettone nor pandoro can be proud of. Colomba is even regulated by the Interministerial Decree, so, you know, Italian Easter cake is a must-try delight!
True Labor of Love
While most wouldn’t even dare to dream, you, left with a growling stomach after reading about Colomba cake, might be thinking about taking on the challenge of making it from scratch at home. While we fully support your decision, there’s a legal regulation where we have to warn you that making Italian Easter cake is definitely a culinary commitment - it takes at least 24 hours. You might be wondering about the easy-peasy ingredients list we mentioned above, and yes, you’re right. Colomba cake is easy to make and equally effortless to mess up. Just remember the hardest test you’ve ever taken in college, and triple the anxiety that it came with, so you will be prepared. Making a Colomba cake at home is quite a challenge, but we’re here to make it a bit easier and guide you through. But, we will be expecting the “where can I buy Colomba cake” question just in case…
So, let’s talk about the dough, shall we? After all, Colomba is classified as bread with fancy toppings. Now, this is where you make or break your dove-cake, so you have to choose your ingredients carefully. Here are some of our recommendations. Start by mixing 2 ¼ cups of all-purpose Italian flour with a tablespoon of instant yeast and honey for delicate sweetness. Your dough should triple in volume overnight, and the next day you’ll have to knead your way to the delicious dessert at least two times. Meanwhile, you just sit back and enjoy your day, don’t let the dreadful anxiety of your Colomba going the wrong way get you down!
The next day, whenever your dough is all puffy and fluffy - hopefully, just add more flour, granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt. Mix it with milk and eggs, and knead your dough like there’s no tomorrow! When it all comes together, add butter, but beware - do not go overboard! Take a little at a time, and knead until everything is smooth and pliable. Leave it until it’s tripled in size, and get your sweet add-ins ready. We’re close to the end, just a little, and you’ll be done, we promise!
Add dried orange peels and raisins, knead your dough once again, and separate it into two balls for two pieces to shape them easier. Place the dough into a special pan with greased plastic wrapper and leave for 3-4 hours. Once everything looks excitingly puffy, get ready to sculpt! The easiest way to achieve the classic look is by dividing the bigger portion of the dough into two equal wing parts. Elongate the other dough ball to shape a body and prettify with the chubby wings from each side. We know it’s not the most accurate representation of doves, but it works just fine and tastes even more so! As long as doves are not complaining, we think it’s okay! After sculpting, it’s time for finishing touches - brush the risen dough with pearl sugar, toasted almonds, maybe a little egg yolk for golden looks, and voila. All you have to do is, bake your creation in a preheated oven for 30-40 minutes and watch your dove fly up - literally!
Where to Buy Colomba Cake Online?
Now, this might be the part where you think to yourself - “Okay, no! Where can I buy Colomba cake?” Well, that’s exactly what we would be asking ourselves if we didn’t already have the answer. Of course, at Yummy Bazaar, you will find myriads of classic Italian Easter cakes. If you’re one of us - who like to skip to the delicious part without making a mess out of their kitchen, we’re ready to treat you to the traditional flavors from Italy without boarding a plane - simply take a look at our online selection of Colomba cakes!
While we don’t like picking favorites, we have to start with one-of-a-kind unique renditions by the famous Fiasconaro brand. On Yummy Bazaar, you can buy everything from pistachio spread-topped to classic Colomba cake with wild berries from Fiasconaro. With nearly 70 years of experience, Fiasconaro has become one of the leading Italian confectionery brands, beloved for the unmatched melding of flavors achieved with premium quality raw ingredients.
We made sure to take your festive dinners up a notch with exquisite Dolce & Gabbana x Fiasconaro Colomba cakes, dressed in traditional Italian gift-tin and infused with Sicilian chocolate drops. Fiasconaro has made the exquisite centerpiece of your festive dinner for you, so you don’t have to go through all that trouble. And luckily, we carry various flavors with fabled Sicilian almonds, unique Italian chocolate spread & more, so you can choose your ultimate favorite!
However, if you’re looking for even more unique renditions of this classic delight, we also carry the famous Bauli brand with a century of experience. On Yummy Bazaar, you will find everything from Profiterole to Limoncello cream-filled Colomba cakes by Bauli. The signature renditions of Italian Easter cake will be perfect for savoring the traditions with just a little bit of modern flair to it!
Now, expats might be looking for the traditional, authentic Colomba cake to relive Italian days at home without traveling. Well, Yummy Bazaar can help with that, too. With us, you can buy legendary Tre Marie’s traditional Italian confectionery delights, including Colomba cakes. Dated back to 12th century Milan, Tre Marie is the leading company, honoring the 3-days rising and leavening rules of making Colomba cake in a traditional way. So, if you’re missing the ultimate classic, we’re sure traditional Colomba cake from Tre Marie will easily transport you back to Italy, at your dinner table, waiting for your nonna to serve a freshly baked, fragrant slice of Easter cake!
Source: Tre Marie
So, whether you’re determined to take on the labor of love and make Colomba cake from scratch or just want to skip to the delicious part, without judgment, of course, Yummy Bazaar’s online grocery store can help. We take time and curate one of the most extensive online assortment of fine & fun food & beverages from around the world, and that, naturally, includes Italian Colomba cakes! So, take a look at our selection, pick your own, and we will deliver flavors of spring right to your door!