Have you ever asked yourself what Italians eat at Easter? Me neither. But we should have. Loudly. Publicly. And with dramatic hand gestures for added authenticity. Because the answer is one of the tastiest treats the world of baked goods has to offer. The proverbial manna sent straight from heaven. Colomba di Pasqua! Come down to Limoncello today to begin your Colombaeatucation.
When we think of Easter and food most of us think first of chocolate Easter eggs. It’s understandable. They seem to appear in every shop shortly after Valentine’s day has passed. They can seem insidious. Like they’ve always been there. Hiding. Just waiting for their turn to come out of the back rooms and warehouses and jump onto the shelves.
But they are actually a relatively modern innovation. And a product not of culture and longstanding tradition. But of crass commercialisation of the much simpler Easter traditions of painting up real eggs for display. If you want authentic Easter food, look instead to baked goods.
Many cultures specialise in producing bready treats at Eastertime. Across the English speaking world hot cross buns are all the rage. My cousins in New Zealand eagerly await shipments of home baked hot cross buns from their mother here in England every year.
But for Italians, baked goods at Easter mean only one thing:
Colomba di Pasqua
Colomba is Italian for Dove. A bird which has taken on the symbolism of international peace in our modern world. This in turn derives from its symbolism in Christianity of a deep, spiritual inner peace of the quiet, reflective mind. And is a common symbol for the Holy Ghost, a key part of the Holy Trinity of Christian Theology.
To the highly religious traditional Italian viewpoint, associating the dove with the most important religious celebration of the ecclesiastic calendar was obvious. As was using it as a great excuse to create a truly wonderful sweet baked treat. After all, what better way to get young kids to look forward to a boring religious event they don’t understand the importance of than with cake? And if the adults just happen to really love the dove shaped sweet treat too, well…what can you do?
In many ways Colomba is an Italian version of a fruitcake, and is closely related to the Italian Christmas sweetbread Panettone. But as usual the devil is in the details, and the details make Colomba quite distinct.
The base of any Colomba lies with flour, eggs, sugar, yeast and butter – like many another cake. But unlike most cake styles it is a sourdough. It is flavoured with candied orange peel and dried fruit. Must be glazed with sugar and almonds. And, of course, shaped like a dove.
The best Colomba has to fly a fine line. It must be sweet. But not sickly sweet. Chewy. But not like a Wookie. And to have its buttery richness balanced by the sharper tang of the candied fruit. Finding a top quality commercially available Colomba is no easy task in this country. So here at Limoncello we’ve done the hard work for you. Stop by sometime this Easter and try some of the best Colomba you’ll taste this side of Milan.
Credit - Thomas Farley