Everyone can celebrate with Gluten-Free Colomba Pasquale! We converted a traditional Easter Dove Bread recipe from the folks at King Arthur Flour to gluten-free, with tweaks and advice for gluten-free bakers.
While Italy offers many traditional Easter breads, the best-known by far is Colomba Pasquale, or Easter dove bread. It’s native to Lombardy in Northern Italy, but available everywhere when Easter rolls around. You can even find these panettone-like breads in bakeries around the U.S. in their paper “dove” pans around the Easter holidays.
Some people enjoy fresh Colomba Pasquale with a glass of wine; others prefer it toasted, and drizzled with heavy cream, butter or honey, and served with coffee. It’s delicious just plain, too; serve it Easter morning, or whenever you please – it’s fabulous on a cheese tray, for dessert, or paired with Easter ham.
One note about toasting – it’s best to pull off the pearl sugar off the slices you plan to toast, or they’ll caramelize in your toaster. Or use a toaster oven or broiler for toasting instead.
Making Gluten-Free Biga, Pre-Ferment Bread Starter + Choosing Flour:
Many Italian breads start with a Biga, which is a stiff preferment baking starter. (If you’ve never made one, think: sourdough starter with less water and less work.) Making a Biga is the first step in making ciabatta and in making Colomba Pasquale. It adds flavor, aroma and enhances texture, along with helping the breads to stay fresh longer.
Which gluten-free flour blend you choose is super important here. You’ll definitely want a blend that contains some starches, like tapioca, corn, arrowroot or potato starch, and one that has a light, all-purpose body, that contains flours made from rice, sweet rice, brown rice, or sorghum. I wouldn’t use a blend with more the 25% nut flour to make a Biga or to bake this bread, and absolutely no bean flours. You can use a blend with xanthan or guar gum, or add your own gum-free baking binder, which I find more forgiving in gluten-free baking.
A normal Biga has about half as much water as flour, by volume, but that’s trickier with gluten-free blends, which don’t weigh the same or absorb moisture the same way. I’ve provided approximate weighs for the recipe – you’re looking for a gloppy, sort of scraggy texture, not soupy or completely “wet”. Make certain your yeast is fresh too!
Shaping the Dove Bread:
You can purchase special Colomba dove bread paper baking molds, which is what we did here. That’s a little easier, especially for gluten-free dove bread or if you’ve never made it before. Shaping the dough by hand is OK too, it’ll look a little more rustic, but that’s just fine!
On a Silpat or parchment-lined lined baking sheet, divide the dough in two pieces, with one slightly larger than the other. Shape the larger dough ball into a 10-12″ log and taper one end; that’s the main part of the dove. Use your hand to make an indentation through the center crosswise. Shape the other piece of dough into a 6-7″ log that’s a bit wider at the tips than the center. Lay it across the indentation to become the wings of the bird.
The dough is left to rise after shaping, so don’t worry about it coming together – that will happen as the loaf rises. You’ll also be adding an egg wash and some toppings too, so if you have a bit of a crease or make a mark when you do a shaping adjustment, you can cover them up easily.
Once you’ve added your toppings, it’s time to bake your gluten-free Colomba Pasquale!
If you’re looking for more traditional Italian recipes made gluten-free, check out this Torta Gianduia (chocolate hazelnut cake) and my recipe for Homemade Gnudi (spinach + ricotta dumplings). My friend Meg has gluten-free recipes for Italian Sprinkled Cookies and Pignoli Cookies too!
Gluten-Free Colomba Pasquale Recipe
- baking sheet
- dove bread paper baking mold, optional
Biga (overnight starter)
- 1 cup Gluten-Free Flour Blend (about 140g) blends including bean flours not recommended
- 2/3 cup cool water (152g) or more
- 1/8 teaspoon high quality instant yeast
- 2 1/4 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend (about 315g)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons high quality instant yeast
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp xanthan gum or gum-free baking binder omit if your blend already contains binder
- 4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
- 2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk white reserved for topping; room temperature preferred
- 1/8 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract +1/8 teaspoon orange oil
- grated rind of 1 large orange
- 1/2 cup dried apricots chopped
- 1/2 cup prunes chopped
- 1 large egg white reserved from dough
- 3 tablespoons almond flour or hazelnut flour or 3 tablespoons blanched almonds, finely ground
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds or chopped hazelnuts
- 5 to 6 teaspoons tablespoons coarse white sugar or pearl sugar
- The night before you want to make the bread, mix together the gluten-free Biga (overnight starter) ingredients. Cover the bowl, and leave it at room temperature for up to 15 hours or so.It should look fully hydrated, bit a "scraggy" or gloppy - not fully wet like sourdough starter.
- Next day, combine the bubbly starter with all of the remaining dough ingredients except the grated orange rind and the fruit in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl. Using a paddle attachment on the mixer or a hand-mixer, combine the ingredients fully. Then switch to the dough hook, and knead for about 12 minutes at medium speed, stopping the mixer every 3 minutes to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. By the end of the kneading time, the dough should have become elastic and satiny. It should be starting to leave the bottom and sides of the bowl, though it won’t form a smooth ball.
- Knead in the grated orange rind, apricots and prunes.
- Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 2 hours (3 hours if you’re not using SAF Gold yeast). It should have become quite puffy.
- Divide the dough in two pieces, with one slightly larger than the other. Shape one into a 10″ log, with one tapered end; and the other into a 7″ log.
- Place the longest log lengthwise on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet; use the edge of your hand to form a crease in the center. Lay the shorter log crosswise across it, right at the crease. Shape the shorter log into “wings” by pulling it into a crescent shape. (We know, this doesn’t really look too awfully much like a dove; think of it as a symbolic representation!) Or, purchase a Colomba paper mold at a baking supply store, and place the dough evenly inside.
- Cover the shaped loaf with a cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise until it’s puffy; this will take about 1 to 2 hours, depending on what type of yeast you’ve used. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Make the topping by mixing the egg white, ground almonds, and sugar. Gently paint this glaze all over the loaf; be generous. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds, then the pearl or coarse sugar.
- Bake the loaf for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 350°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes, tenting it for the final 10 minutes of baking. The finished loaf will be golden brown, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will register 190°F.
- Remove the bread from the oven, and carefully slide it onto a rack to cool.
- Serve in thin slices.
Photos: Meg van der Kruik – she likes her gluten-free dove bread toasted with butter & jam!