Easter Colomba: a History and a Reimagining – Mercato

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Easter Colomba: a History and a Reimagining

La Colomba di Pasqua, the “Easter Dove” is the quintessential cake and the sign that Spring is here (for the Northern Hemisphere at least – our Easters a somewhat cooler but still with beautiful ‘new beginnings’ owing to the changes to the leaves). Easter Colomba is eagerly anticipated every year, and like Panettone at Christmas, Colomba is usually bought, not made at home. This is owing to the complicated baking process requiring at least a 30 hour rise using natural yeast and then baked into a dove shape. Even the most traditionally Italian and staunch of Nonna’s buy their Colomba!

Fraccaro Pistacchio Colomba

This sweet bread is bejewelled with candied fruit peel with a pearl sugar and almond crust. Savoury enough to enjoy at breakfast with a strong espresso, but sweet enough as a delicious after dinner dolce when served with chocolate sauce, sweet berries or cream. Different regions and bakers will add their own twist to the recipe, but the base is always the same: flour, eggs, sugar, yeast and butter. A Piedmontese baker may add regional hazelnuts, while in Emilia-Romagna: Amarena cherries may be added. In my household: a glass of sweet Moscato is the ideal pairing to a thick slice of this buttery cake.

Fiasconaro Forest Fruit Colomba

Originating in Milan, the reason for Colomba’s dove shape (symbolising peace) stretches back centuries, the most notable of which is from the Middle Ages in 1176, with the Lombardian victory over the Roman Empire. As the story goes: two doves appeared on the battlefield and ended the Roman invasion!

Pretty strong stuff, but my favourite Colomba origin story is the tale of Saint Columbanus, who it is said, in 612AD, refused a feast by his royal host as he and his pilgrims were undertaking Lent. So as to not anger his host, he blessed the banquet and turned the dishes into white dove-shaped loaves – similar to todays Easter Colomba. Magical and fantastical as some of the stories may be: the dove is an everlasting symbol of peace in the Western world and has become a central image for Easter-time.

Sharing Colomba at Easter is a peace offering in it’s own way as you could never be sad eating it or feel negative towards anyone handing you some! Staying fresh for many days it is rich, buttery and not overly sweet, leaving room for your own choice of additions including honey, fruit, cheese, chocolate, cream or jam.

Loison Cherry and Cinnamon Colomba


Mercato’s Head Chef, Nick Bergin has created a new recipe using Colomba: “Italian Toast, Caramelised Oranges with Ricotta Cream”. You can recreate this Easter Masterpiece at home with ingredients from Mercato today!


Italian Toast

  • 8 thick slices Colomba
  • 3 Eggs
  • 20ml Milk
  • 50gm butter

Caramelised Oranges

  • 2 Oranges peeled and sliced
  • 100gm Honey
  • 50gm Butter
  • Pinch Salt

Ricotta Cream

  • 200gm Ricotta
  • 60gm Cream
  • 60gm Sugar
  • Toasted Crushed Pistachios to serve


For the oranges: Heat a pan over medium heat and add the butter. Place the orange slices in the pan and start to caramelise, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt.  Now add the honey and turn to low. Allow to come to the boil and then remove from the pan and set aside.

For the Ricotta Cream: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until smooth, set aside.

For the Italian Toast: Combine the eggs and milk together and whisk till smooth. Heat a pan over medium heat and add the butter. You want the butter to foam. Now take your slices of Colomba and dip them in the egg mix. Once dipped in the egg mix and place them in the pan and caramelise. It should take about 3 minutes each side. Remove from pan.

To Serve: Place a piece of your Italian toast on the plate and top with a small spoon of ricotta cream, repeat this again. Now top with caramelised oranges and syrup then finish with toasted pistachios.

You can check out all of the Colombas which are currently available at Mercato here.

Photo by Nick Bergin

Photo by Nick Bergin

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