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

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!


    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

    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. 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!

    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

  2. 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?

    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

    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

  3. 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.

    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

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