Every feast day in
has its traditional sweet treats. Carnival has its fried pastries – chiacchiere - Christmas its Panettone, New Year’s Eve its Pandoro and for Easter, one of the most important days on the Italian culinary calendar, it’s Colomba Pasquale. Similar, although not to be confused with Panettone, this aromatic yeasted sweet-bread is shaped like a dove. Italy
Surprisingly little concrete is known about Colomba Pasquale. Its origins appear to date back to medieval times. Legend has it that it was first made in
, invented some time during the three-year-siege of the city by the barbarian hordes under the command of King Alboin. One story has it that the city’s defenders shaped the bread in the form of a dove to symbolize the intervention of the Holy Ghost in battle against the barbarians. Another version suggests it was offered as a token of peace to King Alboino after the city fell. Evidence to support either version of the story, it has to be said, is slim. What can be said with certainty is that whilst it did originate somewhere in the Pavia , today it has assumed something of a national status. province of Pavia
This morning, when I arrived just after 4 a.m. at La Casa del Pane for a master class on the art of making Colomba, my local artisan baker, Franco Filograsso, was already several hours into his shift. Making Colomba in the traditional fashion is a time-consuming process. In fact, Franco had started two days earlier with selective risings of the natural yeast starter. Today, it’s just a question of a final mixing of the dough, adding the candied peel, cutting and skillfully shaping the pastry into its distinctive dove-like shape, dressing the top with the traditional topping of egg yolk, sugar and almonds and finally into the oven. A short while later the air is filled with the unmistakable aroma of 200 freshly baked Colomba cakes, signaling to anyone who happens by that Easter is on its way.
You should easily be able to find artisan Colomba cakes in good bakeries in the run up to Easter. Boxed versions from producers such as Motta, Bauli and Tre Marie are also sold in most supermarkets and Italian specialty stores and are generally quite good. In addition to the traditional version, new varieties are now widely available, some with a custard cream filling, others made with the addition of fruit, cocoa powder or chocolate chip. Traditionally Italians eat Colomba to finish the Easter meal. It is normally enjoyed simply, on its own with a glass of sparkling white wine.