Buona Pasqua! Easter Dove Bread

While Italy offers many traditional Easter breads, the best-known by far is Colomba Pasquale – Easter Dove Bread – a native of Lombardy in the north, but available everywhere when Easter rolls around.

Even in America one can find these panettone-like breads around the Easter holidays, especially in Italian bakeries.

The only challenge is, these “doves” look about as much like a bird as I look like – hmmm, how about the winner of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon?

In other words – the resemblance is scanty at best.

There are dove pans, both paper and metal, that are supposed to give this loaf a distinctive, dove-like shape. But even baking this bread in a shaped pan results in a wavy, misshapen cross, more blob than bird.

What’s a bread artist to do?

Well, if you’re like me, and can’t stand fussing with your food – very little. Still, I found a fairly easy way to make this tasty sweet bread at least somewhat avian in appearance. And if I can “sculpt” this, you can, too.

OK, maybe it’s not going to be the apple of anyone’s eye.

But, so what? If you like panettone, you’ll love “the dove.”

The first thing we’ll do is make an overnight starter. This gives the yeast a good jump start; and, with any long, slow rise, it helps develop the loaf’s flavor.

Place the following ingredients in a bowl. It’s handy to use the same bowl you’ll use for tomorrow’s dough.

1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup cool water
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Stir together, cover the bowl, and leave it at room temperature for up to 15 hours or so.

The starter will become bubbly.

OK, we’re going to skip ahead a few steps here. But stay with me: this is interesting.

Do you have trouble getting your high-sugar yeast breads to rise? Do they poke along so slowly that you begin to wonder if your yeast was any good, or…?

I did an experiment with this bread, using two types of yeast.

On the left, sweet dough raised with Yeast A. On the right, sweet dough raised with Yeast B. Same amount of time. Looks like about a 50% difference in rise, doesn’t it?

Clearly, Yeast A is the winner. Meet your new best friend for sweet breads:

SAF Gold.

While SAF Red is our favorite all-purpose instant yeast, SAF Gold is an “osmotolerant” yeast, perfect for sweet breads, and any dough with a high amount of sugar. SAF Gold works best when the amount of sugar is between 10% and 30% of the amount of the flour, by weight (this is called a “baker’s percentage”).

So, for a 3-cup-flour loaf (12 ¾ ounces flour), you’d choose SAF Gold if the sugar is greater than 3 tablespoons, or up to about a heaping ½ cup. (Understand that the greater the amount of sugar, the more slowly your dough will rise – even with SAF Gold.)

How does SAF Gold work? Sugar likes to absorb water; and when sugar’s in bread dough, it pulls water away from yeast, leaving the yeast thirsty. The yeast cells in SAF Gold are bred to require less liquid to function; so they’re better able to withstand sugar’s greedy ways with water.

Be advised, though; SAF Gold isn’t an all-purpose yeast. It’s best used in sweet breads, and won’t do well in “lean” doughs (low in sugar and fat).

And now, back to our Colomba.

Add the following to the bubbly starter in the bowl:

2 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon SAF Gold instant yeast, or instant yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, white reserved for topping; room temperature preferred
1/8 teaspoon Fiori Di Sicilia; or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract +1/8 teaspoon orange oil

Now, here’s a secret ingredient if ever there was one: Fiori di Sicilia, “flowers of Sicily.” This orange-vanilla flavor is traditionally used in Italian sweet breads: panettone, pandoro, and this Colomba.

We like to use it in cookies, icing, and pastry fillings, too. It’s a great all-around flavor, sure to elicit questions: “Why does this taste SOOOO good?”

1/8 teaspoon Fiori is all you need.

Mix to combine.

Switch to the dough hook, and knead for about 12 minutes at medium speed, stopping the mixer every 3 minutes to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

By the end of the kneading time, the dough should have become elastic and satiny. It should be starting to leave the bottom and sides of the bowl, though it won’t form a smooth ball.

Next, we’ll add the grated rind of 1 orange. Large orange? Small orange? Depends how much you like orange flavor.

Don’t like it? Leave it out. But if you choose to add orange rind, a microplane grater is a superior tool for grating citrus rind (among other things) quickly and easily.

Now, the dried fruit.

A classic Colomba calls for candied orange peel.

You can certainly use that if you like it; but we find most readers prefer more familiar dried fruits.

Our favorite fruit blend, packed with diced apricots, golden raisins, pineapple cubes, chopped dates, and sweetened cranberries, is colorful and tasty.

Tropical fruit blend, with dried pineapple, papaya, mango, and big flakes of lightly toasted coconut, is a lighter-colored mixture.

For Colomba, I first chose our favorite fruit blend; then, on the next go-around, tried this mixture of dried apricot and pineapple bits.

Whatever you choose, use a total of 1 cup dried fruit (or candied peel), kneading it into the dough along with the grated orange rind.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, or an 8-cup measure, as I do here; the measuring cup helps you track the dough’s rise.

Cover the bowl or cup, and let the dough rise for 2 hours (3 hours if you’re not using SAF Gold yeast).

It should have become quite puffy.

Gently deflate the dough, and divide it in two pieces, one slightly larger than the other.

Shape the larger one into a 10″ log, with one tapered end; and the smaller one into a 7″ log.

Place the longest log lengthwise on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet; use the edge of your hand to form a crease in the center.

Lay the shorter log crosswise across it, right at the crease. Shape the shorter log into “wings” by pulling it into a crescent shape. (We know, this doesn’t really look too awfully much like a dove; think of it as a symbolic representation!)

Flatten out the “wing tips,” and the “tail.”

Use a pair of scissors to snip “feathers.”

Like this. Add a whole almond for the dove’s eye.

Cover the shaped loaf with a cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise until it’s puffy; this will take about 1 to 2 hours, depending on what type of yeast you’ve used.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Here we are, about an hour later. You don’t want to let the dove rise TOO much; it’s going to lose its shape enough as it bakes, without letting it get too puffy prior to baking.

Next: Colomba’s classic topping.

For a traditional topping, you’ll need both coarse pearl sugar (left), and some kind of almonds (right). It doesn’t really matter what kind, since you’ll be grinding them.

Don’t have pearl sugar? Use coarse white sparkling sugar; or Demerara; or just granulated sugar, though you’ll lose “the look.”

Prior to adding the sugar topping, you’ll brush the loaf with glaze. Mix the following:

1 large egg white, reserved from the dough
3 tablespoons almond flour or toasted almond flour; or 3 tablespoons blanched sliced (or slivered, or unblanched sliced, or whole) almonds, finely ground
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

You’ll have a thick glaze.

Brush the risen loaf with the glaze. Be generous; there’s plenty to go around.

Sprinkle with 5 to 6 tablespoons coarse sugar, and 2 to 3 tablespoons sliced almonds.

Bake the loaf for 15 minutes.

Then reduce the oven heat to 350°F, and bake for an additional 20 minutes…

…tenting it for the final 10 minutes of baking, to prevent over-browning.

Remove the loaf from the oven. It should be golden brown, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should register at least 190°F. Carefully slide the bread onto a rack to cool.

See what I mean about losing its shape? Hey, it’s the thought that counts.

And, if you’re into dough sculpture, feel free to make your own dove-like design.

Serve in thin slices.

Some enjoy fresh Colomba with a glass of wine; some prefer it toasted, then drizzled with heavy cream or honey, and served with coffee.

It’s delicious just plain, too; serve it Easter morning, or later in the day, as a sweet accompaniment to the Easter ham.

By the way, Colomba makes delicious toast. (Be careful of sugar melting into your upright toaster, however; either be prepared for a bit of burnt sugar smell, or toast the dove bread in a toaster oven.)

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Colomba Pasquale.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. hisbigal

    Looks tasty. I just wonder is there an acceptable substitute for the almonds and almond flour? I ask because I’m allergie to almonds (and all tree nuts), but want to maintain the crunchiness on the top.

    I’m thinking you could grind oats for the glaze, and then – for the topping, you could just leave the nuts off? It’s the coarse sugar that gives most of the crunchiness. You could also try large-flake coconut, if you’re OK with coconut (not sure if that’s on your allergy list…) PJH

    Reply
  2. vee

    Could you also bake this bread as a freeform loaf?

    Absolutely – one large loaf, or two smaller ones. I’d suggest shaping it into a batard-type shape – a long, fat loaf, rather than a big, fat round. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  3. sandra (Alicante)

    Ooh, I just have to try this one! As it happens, I got my son to bring back (first stop UK, then Spain) some of the yeast you mentioned from the USA. Well travelled yeast! Think I may use some Goji berries in it too……being red, they’d look pretty.
    As for the looking like a dove bit, think I’ll give that a miss and maybe plait it instead!

    Reply
  4. Mandy Schneider

    Hi!!! . ..im new to your blog and im loving it but after seeing todays yummy looking bread I have to ask..do you have a recipe for ..squaw bread, portguese bread and last a bear claw???? Those 3 things are on my wish list 🙂 ..thank you!!! Beautiful pictures and easy to follow recipes..awesome job
    Mandy

    Hi – By “squaw bread,” if you mean the dark, slightly sweet bread you often find in restaurants, try our Dark & Sweet Restaurant Rolls. No bear claws, but here’s a recipe for Portuguese Sweet Bread. Be sure to check out our recipe site when you have a chance. Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  5. "sandra Alicante"

    If we don’t have the special flavouring, what percentage of orange to vanilla would you recommend?

    Sandra, use 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon orange oil, to taste (the greater amount if you like orange a lot); and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. PJH

    Reply
  6. nelll

    I’ve got an old (1991- sixth printing) edition of Sunset Breads: Step-by-Step techniques. It’s got a Columba de Pasqua (Easter Dove) bread recipe that doesn’t have fruit in it, but uses almond paste and whole, blanched almonds to get a ‘feather’ appearance on the bird’s wings.

    They’ve got a sketch of how to shape the loaf that looks like it would work (haven’t tried it myself). They divide the dough into two equal balls. One gets rolled out into an 11×6-inch oval. That’s going to be the spread wings of the bird. The other piece gets rolled into a triangle about 8 inches across the base and 16 inches tall. The triangle gets laid right across the middle of the oval (like making a plus sign with the triangle over the oval). Now here’s the part that’s hard to describe. Fold the pointy top of the triangle over on itself to the right. This makes the turned head of the dove, in profile. (Their sketch shows the point drawn out to look like a beak – probably disappears in baking – and the ‘head’ rounded.) Then take the wide base of the triangle and fold it over in the opposite direction. This makes the tail. Gently pull the tail into a fan shape and cut five slits in it to make the tail feathers.

    They put 13 balls of almond paste on the wings and pressed a whole almond into each, for the wing feathers, and another almond into the head to make an eye.

    Since it’s rolled out fairly flat, I would think that this would at least suggest the shape of a bird, after rising and shaping, better than something that begins as two logs laid over each other.
    This is so great, thanks for sharing it with us! ~Amy

    Reply
    1. Sandra Rubino

      I own this Sunset cookbook, and I have made this Columba a number of times since we returned from our sojourn in Italy. We discovered Columbas during an Easter trip to Venice. It was not as widely available in Italy as it may be now. The results were wonderful, and we prefer it without the candied fruit. Easter has enough sweets involved! Italian bakers use the paper pans, but we actually came to prefer this free-form as it is more birdlike. Be careful not to make the head and beak too thin or it will surely overbrown or burn. Of course, everyone loves the sugary wings and tail best, but the whole sweet bread is delicious.

    2. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sandra, thanks for the report from Italy, where you were able to experience the real deal – we armchair travelers appreciate it! PJH

  7. Irene in TO

    If you are an occasional yeast-dough baker, don’t take a chance on the expensive fruit and other good stuff. ADD YOUR DRY YEAST TO THE STARTER AND MAKE SURE IT BUBBLES BEFORE ADDING ANYTHING ELSE.

    Proper hydration of ANY form of yeast before adding a lot of sugar will guarantee a good rise. I’ve been baking with yeast for more than 40 years and have lost maybe 5 batches in the entire time, because yeast was too old.

    I wish these specialty yeasts could be packed into 100 gram or 1/4 pound jars. Even if I stash yeast in the freezer, I don’t like it to sit around for more than a year.

    Reply
  8. Ariana from Chicago

    PJH, you never disappoint when it comes to authentic Italian recipes! Thank you for this! Years ago, Bon Appetit had a similar recipe and it was very complicated – multiple rises over 2 days, and it kept me up at night too. Nevertheless, I tried for 3 Easters in a row to get it right. I gave up. Every time, the bread was too dry for my liking. I had even ordered special paper ‘dove molds’, which I might have thrown away in sheer disappointment. I cannot wait to try this one!! Grazie! p.s., the glaze is the BEST part of this bread, delish…..

    Enjoy, Ariana – Buona Pasqua! PJH

    Reply
  9. greyselchie

    Nell-
    I’ve been baking the Colombi di Pasqua bread from Betsy Oppenneer’s The Bread Book for years this way. She has very clear diagrams. It always looks fantastic. I bake it on a 15″ perforated pizza pan lined with crossing strips of baker’s parchment. I soak the raisin that makes the eye so it doesn’t become too hard, and use sliced almonds with the skin on to make a feather pattern all over the wings and body. It takes a while but is worth it for the oohs and ahhs. The beak gets pinched back to skinny right before baking and it keeps its shape very well.
    Linda from Montana
    Thank you for this, Linda! ~Amy

    Reply
  10. chinchillalover

    This looks yummy ,but the idea of yeast bread shaped like a bird just sounds sorta cheesy to me.Other people may like it but not everyone i am just happy there are people out there trying to help others get better in the cooking/baking area.

    Reply
  11. kmtwriter

    I can’t believe that I have ALL the ingredients to make this. Three questions:
    1. Should I use the Gold yeast in the starter?
    2. Can I substitute nuts for most of the dried fruit? (My family isn’t that fond of dried fruit but will tolerate it in small amounts.)
    3. Do you have any tips for spreading out the work or freezing? (For example, could you freeze the decorated bread before baking or after baking?)
    Thanks for all your hard work. You keep me inspired to bake!

    1) You can use Gold in the starter, but it’s not necessary, since there’s no sugar.
    2) Substitute nuts, or just leave out the fruit without substituting.
    3) You could freeze the dough for no more than 4 weeks; then thaw, shape, rise,glaze, and bake. Or you could freeze the shaped, unrisen, unglazed dough (again, no more than 4 weeks), then thaw, raise, glaze, and bake. Or you could freeze the finished bread, thawing and then reheating for 10 to 15 minutes, covered with foil, in a 350°F oven. Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  12. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez

    P.J., i must confess that i didn´t liked the final result of this recipe. Not talking about the dough, but the visual, the final shape of this Colomba. I don´t know if it´s the original version made without the use of a cake pan. Here in Brazil, specially in my city, the second major colony of imigrants is Italian. The first one is Germanic. The shape of the version without cake pan absolutely don´t remember a Colomba. I couldn´t identificate a shape of the bird. You know i´m always here to elogiate your marvellous recipes, including the visual of them. But at this one in particular, i really don´t like. Here i bake the Colomba in a Colomba Cake pan and the result is completely ANOTHER. I wanna know if originally in Italy the Colombas were baked without the use of a pan.

    Ricardo, thanks for your feedback. According to Carol Field {“The Italian Baker” is her most noted work), the classic method for shaping the Colomba in Italy is simply to lay a slightly smaller piece of dough crosswise across a larger piece, with the smaller piece shaped into a crescent, to imitate wings. No slicing of feathers, etc. It’s a simple shape. The pan – at least the ones we sell here in the States – looks more or less like a very fat cross; really, pretty much like a blob. I’d say stick to the shape you’re familiar with – to each his own, right? 🙂 PJH

    Reply
  13. letoile

    I wonder when Mandy asked for “squaw bread” if she might be referring to Fry Bread. Taking sweet yeasted bread dough (or even plain), and rolling it into a small round, dropping it it hot oil like frying a doughnut, then applying a little sugar to it. My mother used to make these for stormy day treats and they were wonderful.

    letoile

    i wondered that, too – my MIL called this “frogs,” and she made them out of flattened pieces of leftover bread dough. But I do believe, from my research, that she was referring to a dark, molasses sweetened bread. Thanks for you input, though – always interesting to hear other people’s family memories. PJH

    Reply
  14. lilia

    PJ Thanks for another great post. I really am not good at the creative stuff, like forming dove wings, so I was wondering if this could be baked in a pannettone pan? How would that affect the temp and cooking time? Thanks.

    Lilia

    Lilia, I’m sure this could be baked in a panettone pan. Bet you could bake it in a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, too. You’d probably want to bake it at 350°F the whole time, tenting with foil after 20 minutes, and baking for a total of 40 to 45 minutes, or until it’s done in the center (about 190°F). Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  15. Annie

    I would love to make this bread into roles for Easter (My mouth waters looking at it!) Any suggestions on oven temperature / baking time?
    I’d say bake at 350°F for about 20-25 minutes. That should do the trick. Be sure to test the internal temperature, you’re looking for 190°F. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  16. junglejana

    Wow! Another wonderful new family favorite. I had no problem with the rise using regular instant yeast. The weird thing is I bought orange peel at christmas on sale never used it, it fell out of the pantry at me, I think the kids helped that, and your recipe came in my e-mail. I had to make it. I really liked the how to eat sugestions. The cream was a hit. My husband took some for breakfast at work, he also had some greek yoghurt with honey, I had to buy more greek yoghurt 🙂 omg! like something even more special. Thanks again for making me look, and bake good.

    So glad to hear this was a hit – bet your family likes panettone, too, as they’re very similar. Did you know you can make your own Greek yogurt by straining plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt? A quart (32-ounce) container drains down to 16 ounces of wonderfully thick, creamy, flavorful yogurt. You can do this in cheesecloth, but I use our Wave yogurt strainer – it’s so easy, then I just store the yogurt right in it, and it keeps getting thicker and thicker… Thanks for sharing your success here! PJH

    Reply
  17. mjimd55

    Wow! That Gold yeast makes a world of difference. I have made the pannetone recipe twice without the great rise using the regular instant yeast. Not so here. I made this last week as directed and it was terrific. For Easter breakfast I made it using mini chips and the vanilla butternut flavoring. I made the mistake of letting the biga sit to long and the final result had a slight yeasty undertone. I used about 1/4 tsp of the flavoring and it didn’t come through. I know the yeast may have overpowered some, but should I have used more flavoring? Thanks for another great KAF recipe. (My daughter asks me why I only use your flour. I told her it’s payback for your great service, recipes, and products. Works for me!)

    LOVE the SAF Gold for sweet breads. And yes, a big yeast recipe like this could probably handle 3/4 to 1 teaspoon flavoring, even of these strong flavors. And thanks for only using our flour – me and my fellow 170-or-so fellow owners appreciate your loyalty very much. 🙂 PJH

    Reply
  18. Caroline

    I made this bread today according to your recipe. I did not use the SAF yeast. Instead I used a standar rapid rise. The bread came out with a good result, it was not perfect however. While I did get a good rise, it was slightly too dense. The flavor was perfect and I used a dove paper mold from Italy. You van buy these online. My Italian husband who is a very honest critic gave it a 9.5 out of 10. Allow me to just reiterate how honest he truly is. That being said, I think this is a good recipe and it is easier to follow than many of the others on the web. The flavor and appearance is almost identical to the store bought ones I have tried. I would like to try it again using the SAF yeast to see if I can achieve a perfect 10 out of 10!

    Caroline, we’re flattered! And so happy that your husband gives this a nearly perfect score. Try letting the dough rise just a bit longer next time – and, as you say, give SAF a try. Happy Easter – PJH

    Reply
  19. barbara lauterbach

    You’ve hit a home run again, P.J.! Loved this bread in Italy, I was there over Easter once.
    Now I’ll gather up my culinary courage and give it a try.
    Va bene, e buon Pasqua!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Barbara, I’d love to sample your version – you’ve experienced “the real deal,” and I’d bet you’ll be able to give it that certain touch I don’t have the experinece to add. Buon pasqua! I hope the snow level is finally dropping… 🙂 PJH

  20. Sandy

    Hi, your recipe looks great! One comment though…

    It appears that you are using orange ZEST, not RIND, which is an important distinction!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Too true Sandy. Be sure to use just the orange part and skip the bitter white pith. ~ MJ

  21. Barbara

    After reading your comment:
    “Be advised, though; SAF Gold isn’t an all-purpose yeast. It’s best used in sweet breads, and won’t do well in “lean” doughs (low in sugar and fat).”
    I have actually had good success with the SAF Gold for doughs low in sugar and fat, as we live at 5600 feet and had a hard time getting my breads to rise in the past with the regular yeast. Since using the “Gold” yeast, I have had great success with all of my yeast breads, sweet or not.
    So I don’t know if it just the way I bake or is it the yeast? I also have been consistently weighing the flour for the last couple of years, instead of dipping the cup, so that may have something to do with it too.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Barbara,
      It’s probably a combination of things, but if the Gold works for you, keep at it. No food police here 😉 . And give yourself Kudos for all the progress you’ve made. ~ MJ

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Use a pinch of fresh yeast in the starter, and use 2 ounces of fresh yeast in the dough itself. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  22. Pamela

    I am reading this recipe over and over and I am only seeing 1/2 cup cool water in the started without any other added liquids. Is this correct? How can there not be any added water/milk to the dough?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The dough is fairly stiff. Both the eggs and the butter add to the moisture of the bread. It is a bread that needs patience, but so worth the extra effort! Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  23. Monica

    I made this bread yesterday, and I, like Pamela, wondered about the lack of water except for the 1/2 cup in the biga. As I kneaded, stopping every 3 minutes, I realized that my dough looked nothing like the picture above. It was extremely dry, and there was nothing to scrape off the sides and bottom of the bowl. I always use the recommended “fluff, scoop and sprinkle” method of measuring flour, so I’m pretty certain that it wasn’t a matter of mismeasurement. So I kept adding water, a little at a time until the dough looked and felt right, soft and somewhat sticky. I opted to make a three strand braid, and had no trouble shaping it at all. I also found that using the SAF gold yeast, the rising times were about half the listed times – doubled in one hour for first rise, about forty-five minutes for second. This bread had a HUGE oven spring, and took about ten minutes longer to bake (it really was BIG!), but I have to say that this is one of the most delicious loaves I’ve ever baked, and I’ve baked quite a few! I used 3/4 cup dried cranberries and 1/4 cup European candied orange peel for the dried fruit, everything else exactly as listed in the recipe. Moral of the story – let the dough tell you what it needs!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      So true, Monica. Listen to the dough! You can absolutely add water if necessary; especially since we’ve had a long winter, and you may be somewhere dry, it’s not surprising it needed a bit of extra liquid. I’m so glad it worked out well for you – happy Easter! PJH

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Since the proportions of the big are the same as your starter, feed free to use 8 ounces (1 cup, 227g) of your recently fed and ready starter. Laurie@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sure thing, RM. After you’ve shaped the loaf, don’t let it rise. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for 8-16 hours max. As your oven preheats on Easter morning, pull out the dough until it becomes nicely puffy, then bake away! Annabelle@KAF

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