Panettone and Colomba are traditional Italian artisan cakes made for Christmas and Easter respectively. The recipe is almost the same, but the shape and candied fruit could completely change the flavour.
What's the difference between Colomba and Panettone?
Panettone, the big bread
The word "panettone" derives from panetto, a small loaf cake. The augmentative suffix-one changes the meaning to "large cake". To make it, you have to mix together flour, natural yeast, butter, eggs, letting the dough rise for thirty minutes. According to tradition, candied fruits such as raisins, oranges and citrus zest are then mixed into the dough before it is baked. Each cake puffs up like a dome and is hung upside down to cool so as not to collapse on itself.
Colomba, the Christmas’ cousin
It's shaped like a dove bird, hence the name "Colomba". Similar to panettone, the dough presents the same ingredients. However, unlike panettone, this unique cake doesn't have any raisins but instead is studded with candied orange peel. After the dough is placed into a dove-shaped mould, it is finally topped with pearl sugar and almonds and baked to perfection.
What’s the story behind these two beautiful cakes?
In Italy, historical accounts of panettone invariably state that it originated in Milan. The beginnings of this cake appear to date from the Roman Empire, when ancient Romans sweetened a type of leavened cake with honey.
It is possibly mentioned in a contemporary recipe book written by Italian Bartolomeo Scappi, personal chef to popes and emperors during the time of Charles V.
The first recorded association of panettone with Christmas can be found in the Italian writings of the 18th century illuminist Pietro Verri. He refers to it as pan de ton ('luxury bread').
In the early 20th century, two enterprising Milanese bakers began to produce panettone in large quantities for the rest of Italy.
In 1919, Angelo Motta started producing his eponymous brand of cakes. It was also Motta who revolutionised the traditional panettone by giving it its tall domed shape by making the dough rise three times, for almost 20 hours, before cooking, giving it its now-familiar light texture.
By the end of World War II, panettone was cheap enough for anyone and soon became the country's leading Christmas sweet.
The Colomba di Pasqua is a sweet, yeasted bread that boasts many similarities to a panettone.
This shape is linked to the delicacy’s historic back-story, with various legends telling how the Colomba was baked as a peace offering or symbol and celebration of peace.
One legend has it that the Colomba was baked to celebrate the thwarting of the Holy Roman Empire’s attempt to capture Lombardy in 1176AD: at the end of the battle, two doves were spotted on the battleground. Another story tells of how the bread was baked as a peace offering to placate the sixth-century Lombardian King Alboin, who captured the city of Pavia the day before Easter and demanded that 12 young girls be brought to him – thanks to the Colomba, he decided to set the girls free and show mercy on the city.
The Colomba also pops up in a tale about Saint Columbanus, an Irish abbot who, on a visit to the Lombard kingdom in 612AD, turned down a royal feast of the finest meats because he and his pilgrims were doing penance during Lent; to appease his host, the abbot blessed the banquet, turning the dishes into white dove-shaped loaves.
In every Italian house it’s easy (even mandatory) to find at least one Panettone or one Colomba during the related holidays. It’s also used as a gift, to thank friends and relatives, to wish them “Buon Natale” or “Buona Pasqua”.
Considering the number of cakes we normally receive or buy, there are always two solutions to avoid wasting these premium products: donate them or reinvent them. Our mammas take pride in reinventing food with the leftovers.
That’s why we’d love to share this recipe with you.
It's a shame to leave that superlative beauty without giving it some justice.
There are a lot of recipes you could use, but this one seems more suitable and can also be modified by changing the type of fruit (for example apples instead of pears) or adding some stronger flavour.
What do you need?
- ½ leftover Panettone or Colomba
- 2 pears
- 2 eggs
- 30 grams of sugar
- cinnamon to taste
- icing sugar (optional)
For the crumble: 50 grams of sugar, 100 grams of flour, 50 grams of unsalted butter, a pinch of cinnamon.
Cut the Panettone/Colomba into thin slices and arrange them on the bottom of a greased cake tin.
Cut the peeled pears into thin slices and cover the cake.
Beat the eggs with the sugar and pour them over the cake.
Mix all the ingredients for the crumble and knead until crumbs are formed.
Sprinkle the crumble over the Panettone/Colomba and bake at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes.
Top with icing sugar and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or custard cream.
A comfy, soft and exquisite cake for your afternoon tea or a dessert to impress your guests.