As a devout panettone lover, I’ve been keeping well-informed on the rituals, traditions and news surrounding the sweet Christmas bread. In fact, it’s recently come to my attention that there’s not only a Panettone World Cup but also an international Panettone World Championship. Organized by the Accademia dei Maestri del Lievito Madre e del Panettone Italiano, it was created in an effort to defend and promote the artisanal production and craftsmanship of leavened products with mother yeast. Bakers with worthy recipes send in samples during the preliminary rounds. If the team of judges (consisting of technical, quality and popular juries) likes what they taste, contests move onto the next round until the best panettone is discovered. Definitely not a cakewalk—pardon the pun—I for one, would love to be a fly on the wall during this panettone extravaganza.
Though it’s no longer panettone season, you wouldn’t be able to tell if you stepped inside my little apartment in Bra, or as I like to call it, the panettone warehouse. There’s panettone biscotti in my cupboard, a tiny strawberry panettone hiding in my sweets stash, a packaged slice just for one on my desk and next to it is a wrapped maple panettone waiting for my Canadian compagni. If that weren’t enough, I also decided to freeze some torn pieces of panettone to use as a mix-in for homemade gelato...that has yet to happen, but since we’re in zona rossa, expect a recipe coming your way soon!
Though I am a panettone fiend, there’s still a special place in my heart (and in my cupboards) for colomba. In fact, after my lovely pal Giorgia was gifted an artisanal Easter sweet bread, this brought on a lengthy discussion on which is the better bread and what the differences between the two really are. Is colomba just an Pasqua panettone?
Traditionally speaking, panettone is typically circular with a round, dome-like top; whereas the colomba is shaped like a dove, the classic symbol for Easter. Similar to panettone, the dough consists of flour, fresh eggs, butter, and natural yeast. However, panettone contains both raisins and mixed candied fruit, but colomba only has candied orange peel. Another distinguishing factor is that colomba has a sugary almond coating and is topped with sugar pearls.
The child of the panettone, the columba was actually created in the 1930s by the marketing and advertising specialist Dino Villani of the panettone brand, Motta. In an effort to raise revenue and profit on sweet bread during the Easter season, Motta made a few tweaks to their panettone and soon others followed, joining in on the colomba cash cow. This is why at a glance, the two holiday dessert breads appear so similar.
Interestingly, the designations relating to what differentiates a panettone from a colomba were even actually elaborated by the 2005 decree of the Ministry of Productive Activities no. 177 to avoid any confusion. The decree defined panettone as the name “reserved for the soft-dough baked confectionery product obtained by natural fermentation from sourdough, with a round base shape, soft structure with elongated alveolation and a typical leavening aroma of sourdough”. Colomba instead was defined as the denomination “reserved for the soft pastry baked confectionery product obtained by natural fermentation from sourdough with an irregular oval shape similar to the dove, a soft structure with elongated alveolation, glazing and a decoration of sugar grains and almonds”. Not much difference, is there?
Technically speaking, however, this decrees also explained that a colomba should not contain more than 15% of candied orange peel, whereas the panettone to fruit ratio (candied fruits and raisins combined) must not exceed 20%.
Of course, whether it’s panettone season or colomba season, bakers have gotten creative and taken some creative liberties in crafting unique and sometimes exotic breads. Some fun colomba treats I’m hoping to try this Easter season include:
A Colomba-inspired gelato at GROM that has a rich custard cream base with raisins, candied fruit and topped with almonds!
Fiasconaro Colomba Rosa e Fico D’India crafted with rose petal essence, ruby chocolate chips and coated with prickly pear jam and a white chocolate glaze…I’d also settle for the Colomba Ananas e Albicocca made with candied pineapple and apricot, topped with a sugar glaze and pistachios…but, there’s also their fabulous collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana!
Given the quality of the colomba that we sampled with Giorgia, I think I might have to start compiling a list of the best colombe to go alongside my list of panettoni. Right now, Panificio Moderno is topping my colomba chart. A gorgeous golden brioche centre loaded with real pieces of candied orange rind and topped with just a thin glaze and a delicate dusting of sugar sprinkles, this truly felt like it was made with love, straight from the baker’s hands into ours.
Coming in at a close second is the Tre Marie Colomba Rouge which has sweet candied cherries baked into the dough and is topped with dark chocolate and ruby chocolate-covered almond pieces. Something that you can find at your local Mercatò, this fluffy bread is actually a great supermarket find and won’t break the bank. For my Canadians back home, you’re going to want to check out your local Italian bakeries for the Tre Marie brand!
A fan of colomba as I am now, I actually didn’t grow up eating it! Instead, there was always a braided sweet bread with an egg baked into the dough that made its way onto our Pasqua lunch table. That said, I definitely have zero problem adding colombe to my Easter food traditions.
Since the first time I tasted colomba back in 2014, when I spent Easter with Debora and her family in Tuscany, I’ve been hooked. Unfortunately, colomba isn’t something that I see too often back home in Toronto, but with the advent of social media and the Italian food boutiques like Eataly cropping up all over, I’m sure that the colomba is only going to increase in popularity. What else would you expect from the offspring of panettone?