Colomba, The Italian Easter Bread

 

Along with the chocolate egg, the colomba (meaning dove), or Easter bread is a typical Italian Easter dessert. There are many legends surrounding its origin. One of the first interpretations of the story goes back to the Lombard Era, exactly to the sixth century, in the area of Pavia. The story says that after the siege of the city, the Lombard king Alboin was offered a sweet bread in the shape of a dove as a sign of peace. Instead, another legend says that the name of this dessert is linked to the Lombard Queen Teodolinda and the Irish saint Abbot San Colombano.

Legend says that on the monk’s arrival to the city, around the year 612, the abbot was received by the Lombard sovereigns, who invited him and his monk peers to a sumptuous lunch. On this occasion they were served several drinks with sautéed game meat, but they rejected it saying the meat was too rich for a period of penance, such as Lent. The queen was offended, but the abbot got through the unfortunate situation by saying that they could only eat meat after it had been blessed. The man then raised his right hand making the sign of the cross, and the food was then suddenly transformed into white bread doves, as white as the bird’s feathers. The white dove is also an iconographic symbol of the saint who is always depicted with it on his shoulder.

Legends and theories aside, the birth of the colomba has been traced back to the early decades of the twentieth century, and thanks to the proper business acumen, it was later revealed a success. In Milan in the 1930s, there was a company called Motta, famous for its panettone (traditional Christmas bread). Taken by the desire to exploit the machines and ingredients used for the production of Christmas cakes, the director of advertising, Dino Villani came up with a win-win proposal. The colomba started in this way: a cake that uses the same procedures and takes advantage of the machinery used to prepare the panettone, then topped with a crusty layer of almonds. The recipe was then reproduced by Angelo Vergani who, in 1944, founded Vergani Srl, a Milanese company that still produces the dove-shaped bread. Since then, this Easter bread became a normality on Italian tables during the holiday, the Easter bread for all Italians, which surpasses national borders.

The original dough is made of flour, eggs, butter, sugar and candied orange zest, with a rich almond, has subsequently taken many forms and variations. Its shape is clearly linked to the Christian tradition: this bird is an animal that recurs frequently in scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments. From Noah's Ark to the Resurrection of Christ, the dove represents the Holy Spirit, salvation and hope. Although this is quite a recent invention, the colomba holds a place of honor in Italian gastronomy, representing a product of excellence in artisanal bakeries. A sweet bread that is delicate, soft and fragrant on the outside and moist inside, which requires a long and arduous preparation process.

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