Colomba pasquale is a type of bread traditionally made in Italy for Easter, though its popularity is such that it can be offered by bakeries at other times of year as well. The name means “Easter Dove” and the bread is typically baked in a pan shaped like a bird. The process of making the bread can be quite intense, and anywhere from eight hours to an entire day are needed for preparing the dough and allowing it to rise properly. Colomba pasquale is somewhat similar to panattone, a traditional Christmas bread or cake, as it is quite spongy and sweet, often prepared with candied citrus or citrus zest and almonds.
The name “colomba pasquale” literally translates as “Easter dove,” colomba being the Italian word for dove, and pasqua the Italian word for Easter, coming from the Latin word for the Jewish holiday of Passover. In accordance with this name, the bread is traditionally prepared for Easter celebrations in a pan shaped like a dove or bird. These pans can vary somewhat in shape, sometimes looking like a bird its with wings outspread and sometimes looking like the silhouette of a bird at rest. Though colomba pasquale can be prepared in a regular loaf pan or Bundt pan, the result does not have the namesake shape.
Colomba pasquale is a fairly complicated bread to make; though not necessarily difficult, it does require a hefty investment of time. Making the bread can be greatly facilitated with the use of a bread machine or stand mixer, though it can certainly be prepared by hand. The bread begins with a starter or sponge, which typically includes flour, water, sugar, and yeast. This is mixed and then left to rest and begin to rise and grow soft and spongy for about an hour.
The colomba pasquale is then made over subsequent steps that can take many hours, by adding more ingredients, usually eggs or egg yolks, flour, water, butter, and other flavorings. The bread is allowed to rise once more, and then more of the ingredients are added and it rises again. The rising times can vary anywhere from a few hours to eight or ten hours at a time, so some recipes should be prepared the day before serving. Candied fruits or citrus zest are typically added to the colomba pasquale, and then the final dough is placed into the pan, topped with a sweet egg wash or meringue, then sprinkled lightly with sugar and almond slices. This is then baked until light brown and the resulting bread has rich buttery flavor and bright, citrus sweetness.