I am sure you have tasted the Panettone, the traditional Italian Christmas cake, widely popular even abroad. You may not have heard, though, of “La Colomba di Pasqua”, the traditional Italian Easter cake. “Colomba” is the word for dove and as you see below its shape reminds a bird.
Although it comes from Milan, La Colomba is probably the only Easter sweet that is popular nationwide. The procedure to make Colomba is quite complicated (most people don’t bake it at home) but just few and simple ingredients are mentioned in the original recipe: flour, butter, eggs, sugar, candied orange peel and a rich almond glaze that goes on the top.
Over the years, however, the most creative variations from region to region have
developed. Very popular is the one covered in chocolate.
The medieval legends
The symbolic meaning of this bird is clear; according to the Christian religion recalls peace, salvation and resurrection. However, the origin of the cake is not that certain and there are different stories about it. The first legend concerns the Lombard king Alboino who managed to conquer the city of Pavia, currently in the northern region of Lombardia, after a long siege in 572 AD. The citizens of Pavia tried to curry favour with the new sovereign with gifts and apparently some soft cakes of bread shaped as a dove were so good that the king decided to spare the lives of the people living in the city.
Another legend dates back from the sixth century and comes as well from Lombardia; it concerns an Irish monk called Colum Ban, later made a saint and known in Italy as San Colombano. Colombano during a pilgrimage in Italy was invited by the local Queen Teodolinda to a lavish banquet in Monza, north of Milan. The Irishman felt uneasy in front of the game put on the table in the period of Lenten penance. To avoid offending the queen, the Saint offered to bless the game and the succulent red meats were transformed in sweet breads shaped as doves….
La Colomba Motta
The only certainly true story concerning the Easter dove is more recent, though, and, dates back to the 1930s. The creator of the Colomba as we know it nowadays is Dino Villani, the director of advertising for the Milan based confectionary company Motta. Villani not just created the iconic logo that sums up the name of the company and his Milanese identity in an M, but he also thought of how transform a seasonal business into a permanent one. In the 1930s Motta was already famous for panettone and the idea of Villani allowed the factory to continue producing after Christmas using a mixture of ingredients very similar to the one used for panettone, just differently shaped. The creativity of Signor Villani allowed Motta to place on the market a new sweet devoted to the other main Christian festivity which became soon popular nationwide.
Here in England it is possible to find Colomba! I have just bought mine! So if you want to taste yours just pop to the supermarket! Enjoy it and have a good Easter!!!