11 May 2011

My Big Colomba Easter

Last Easter I started a tradition, to bake an Easter cake, a traditional Easter cake. I know one year does not a tradition make but this year I made another step towards the establishing of this tradition. Last year I went to England for my inspiration and baked a Simnel cake (you must remember marzipan-ball gate?!) and it worked a treat. This year I went to Italy and found a rich seam of seasonal baking and cooking. They really take it all very seriously, there is a dish or cake for most big celebrations. And the Italian Easter cake is a Colomba.
This is a Panntetone-style cake that is baked in the shape of a dove and topped with flaked almonds and pearl sugar. As I was looking around for a recipe I found that my new favourite site, Bakery Bits, had just posted a recipe and they sold the dove-shaped cases too, result. I ordered the cases and then made sure I had all the ingredients (I won't list all the ingredients, they are fairly extensive, so follow the link here to get the recipe). I wanted to make a few over the holidays and decided to practice on work, my willing guinea pigs. So it was Wednesday evening before Easter and I was ready.
Having read through the recipe I realised that I would need about 6 hours to complete it (and that was if all went well), my estimated completion time was about 00.30. But nil desperandum. With that in mind I started the first stage, the sponge. A mix of yeast, flour, warm water, egg yolks and sugar which you leave for 30 minutes when it bubbles up and almost triples in size. You then add a bit more yeast, flour, butter and warm water and mix. Cover this with clingfilm and leave it to double in size (1 to 2 hours). I left it for an hour and it had doubled by then I added all the rest of the ingredients. This makes a dough which you knead until smooth and elastic and leave this to rise until it has trebled, about 3 to 4 hours! It was already 9pm by now so I was hoping for the lower end of the rising time.
I left it for about 2 hours in the end. You then cut the dough in half and flatten each and press the mixed peel into the dough and role into two logs. One log should be longer than the other and forms the main body length of the dove and the other should be slightly shorter and forms the wings. And now, you guessed it, more rising, about 2 to 3 hours. Again I scrimped on this and it went in the oven at about 11.45. You have to suffer for your art!
And what a triumph, it looked so good, it rose beautifully and was lovely and shiny and crusty on top. I couldn't find any pearl sugar but it still looked good and the tasting the next day proved successful.
Number two was a bit less time sensitive, I had the whole day. But because the weather was so good I put the dough in the conservatory to rise which really speeded up the process. This one went to the in-laws for Easter. I think this was the best of the three. Number three was for a Royal Wedding gathering we had, it was still a yum Colomba but the middle one was definitely my best effort.
I'm already thinking about next year and what country to look to to continue my tradition!