Bread-o-lution - April Colomba Pasquale

I really need to get better at this – its past mid-May and I am only just posting April project. But – the good thing is that I just finished May bread, so next post shouldn’t be too far behind. 
My planning was completely off this month – I decided to bake Colomba Pasquale – a traditional Easter cake – for Easter celebrations this year. But, what I forgot to do is to check my calendar - I celebrate both Catholic and Russian Orthodox Easters – both of them fell at the beginning of the month this year, plus I had booked a trip to Russia with my little ones at the beginning of the month, so there was no way on earth I was going to finish my baking on time. 

Anyway, I got there at the end, and to make up for the lateness, I’ve made five (yes, five) loaves just to test out different recipes and shapes. I tried using very traditional as well as more available ingredients, tall and round panettone cases and shallow and wide “dove” cases, and I finally came up with something I am quite happy with. 
As usual, my research started with TheFreshLoaf, and a number of other bread sites – I settled on txfarmer and rosas yummy yums blogs, which have very similar base recipes, with slight difference in the amount of butter they use and how they incorporate the fruit.

Sourdough Colomba Pasquale 
1st dough: 
150g Italian starter (100% hydration) 
400g Italian bread flour 
135g soft non-salted butter 
105g sugar 
3 egg yolks 
150g+105g water 

Final dough: 
All of the 1st dough 
90g Italian bread flour 
15g honey 
4g salt 
30g sugar 
3 egg yolks 
50g soft non-salted butter 
1 tsp vanilla essence 
1tbsp limoncello or aroma veneziana 
zest of 1 lemon or orange 
200g candied orange peel 

100g sugar 
1 egg white 
50g pine nuts 
100g almonds 
50g hazelnuts 
Pearl or regular sugar Icing sugar 

Don’t get scared when you read recipes that talk about “sweet” or “Italian” starter – all they mean is a very active starter that you refresh often – every 4 or 6 hours. Its called “sweet”, because the starter doesn’t have time to develop the levels of acidity that longer feeding schedule would give you. 
I built up my starter from my regular mother starter, feeding it spring water and Italian flour every 4 hours until I have the required amount. Do try to find Italian flour – I made this bread with strong bread flour and the texture wasn’t as soft, so its really worth sourcing the right flour. 
Mix sugar and 150g water in a small saucepan, bring it to boil, reduce the heat and simmer until all of the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and cool completely. 
Place starter, egg yolks, cooled sugar syrup and flour in a bread mixer (I am using my trusted KitchenAid) and mix until everything is well combined. Add the remaining 105g of water, about ¼ cup at the time, making sure that its all absorbed before you add the next bit. 
Slowly add butter – bit by bit – and mix until you have a very wet and silky dough – it will just start coming from the sides of the bowl. I have this wonderful new glass mixer bowl – and I just love watching dough being mixed in it. In total, I think it took about 2 minutes on speed 1 and another 3 minutes on speed 2. 
Cover the dough with clingfilm and leave to rest for 12 hours at room temperature. The dough is meant to grow quite a bit (3-4 times the size), so make sure that you have a large enough bowl. 

The first time I make this bread, I mixed it in the morning, and was hoping to carry on with it after work. Unfortunately it was quite a cold day and the dough hasn’t grown as much as I expected. I didn’t have time to wait for the dough to do its thing, so I banged it in the fridge overnight, took it out of the fridge the next day, just before I went to work and left it at room temperature for 8-9 hours. 
By the time I got back from work, it was truly blooming, and I was ready to move onto the next stage. 

Place all of the first dough, egg yolks, honey, flour, salt, zest, vanilla and limoncello (or aroma veneziana) in a mixer bowl and mix on slow speed for about 3 minutes. 
Original recipes calls for orange zest, but I used lemon as I didn’t have any oranges at home. Aroma veneziana is a very traditional flavouring in Italian recipes, and it has a really sweet and zesty citrus smell. I didn’t have it the first time I made this bread, so I just used some limoncello instead – figured it was citrusy and Italian, so I couldn’t go wrong :) I did use the proper stuff the second time around, and it did give the bread a more traditional flavour, however I wouldn’t waste too much time looking for the essence – limoncello works just as well, if not better. 
Add the sugar, tablespoon at the time, then add butter, bit by bit and mix on medium speed until the dough feels very smooth and elastic and starting to come together in a ball, clearing sides of the mixing bowl. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add candied fruit, mix for about a minute until thoroughly combined. 

Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 1 – 1.5 hours at room temperature. 

Divide the dough in two and place into cases. My dough weighted around 1.5kg and the first time I baked this bread, I split the dough between two large panettone cases – the dough just covered the bottom of the case, maybe 1/5th full. The second time I baked this, I used two proper colomba cases as well as a medium panettone case. Personally I prefer the panettone shape, I think the dough feels a bit lighter when baked in a larger shape. 

Cover the cases with clingfilm and leave to proof for 3-4 hours at room temperature, until the dough nearly tripled in volume. Panettone cases filled out really well – nearly to the top of the cases, whether colomba cases were still only half full. 
Toast pine nuts, hazelnuts and half of almonds (leave the other half for decoration) for a couple of minutes. Cool completely and blitz them in a food processor for get a rough crumb. 

For the glaze mix sugar and an egg white – only enough egg white to make the glaze spreadable. Spread the glaze on top of the loaves – don’t worry about a few spills, it will only make it look more authentic. 
Cover evenly with the nut crumb, decorate with the remaining whole almonds, sprinkle with pearl or regular sugar and dust heavily with icing sugar. I’ve been looking for pearl sugar for a while, and I am glad I found it, as it gives the bread that extra crunchy texture. However, if you haven’t got it – regular sugar will work just fine. 

Bake on the lowest oven shelf at 160C fan for 40 minutes, check in the last 10 minutes to make sure that they are not getting overdone. You are after very golden colour where the topping is just beginning to caramelize – be careful not to over-bake it. 
The bread will have a HUGE oven spring and will fill your house with the most amazing smell as it bakes. Do make sure that you give the bread time to cool down completely before slicing it. 

This is such a nice looking bread – looks and tastes delicious – plain or toasted. Its much lighter and fragrant as your typical brioche and not as sweet as panettone – has a great soft texture with open crumb and lots of little bubbly holes. 

I love a slice or two of it, toasted with a cup of tea for breakfast, and my kids take it plain as an afternoon snack. 

Would I make it again? You betcha – especially how that I have 8 more colomba pasquale cases – they only came in a pack of 10 :)


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