Known in North America as Easter Panettone, the “colomba di Pasqua” – literally, the Easter dove – is a typical Italian cake eaten at this time of the year, as Italians celebrate Easter, feasting on chocolate eggs and bunnies along the way.
The name of the modern “colomba di Pasqua” refer to the commercial idea the famous Motta company had in the 30’s. Motta, a confectionery company already known for its panettone, had the intuition to create an Easter cake along the lines of the Christmas one, in order to use the same machines, but also the same ingredients, and not only for Christmastime.
As a matter of fact, many ingredients for the colomba and the panettone are exactly the same: flour, eggs, butter, sugar, yeast and candied fruits. Originally the “colomba” was baked with honey and coated with almonds and sugar icing. Today the variants are many, with fillings of cream or chocolate, but always resembling the shape of a dove (head, wings and tail).
History and Legends
Stepping back to the Middle Ages, the Easter cake finds its roots with king Alboino, king of the Longobardi (a Barbarian people who ruled Italy after the fall of the Roman Empire). As the legend goes, after three years of siege, on Easter Eve of 572 Alboino finally conquered the city of Pavia but spared the city from looting because, among the many gifts, he received a delicious sweet breads baked in the shape of a dove. The dove is the a universal symbol of peace.
Another legend sets the origins of the “colomba” some centuries later, at the time of the Battle of Legnano (1176). German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa was defeated by the League of Lombard Municipalities. The Easter cake was created upon the will of a leader of the League who, to honour the victory, had special bird-shaped breads prepared to pay homage to the three doves that “watched over” the insignia during the harsh battles.
Whichever the legend, nowadays the “colomba di Pasqua”, with its crunchy sugar-and-almond-coated crust, is the omnipresent sweet bird on Italians’ tables and makes every Easter week merrier and sweeter.