The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Colomba with poolish

nicodvb's picture

Colomba with poolish


I implemented this recipe for the classical easter cake "colomba" from an italian pastry chef

but with some adaptions. The recipe calls for a stiff sourdough, something that I really detest because it requires many more attentions that I want to dedicate it and because it involves a lot of risks for the taste (acidity is always around the corner, not something you will like in a cake).

I replaced the stiff sourdough with two consecutive poolishes amounting to the same amount of flour; the water in excess was subtracted from the first dough. Moreover I started with my rye sourdough (100% hydratation), but in many other occasions my friends and I used a plain white wheat or durum wheat sourdough without the slightest problem.

Salt is essential to relent the enzymatic rection that deteriorates the gluten, thus I moved it from the second to the first dough. When I didn't I had a lot of failures.

This kind of cakes requires the use of a very strong flours. I used a "canadian" one (in italy they are called "manitoba", W >= 350).

The original recipe amounts to 1.5 KG; I rescaled the ingredients to get to 1 KG.

First poolish: 13 gr sourdough, 13 of flour (depends on your starter, mine was rye), 14 of water. Let triple.

Second poolish: add 40 gr of water and 40 of very high gluten/canadian flour. Let triple.

First dough:

flour 260 gr
butter 70 gr
sugar 70 gr
2 egg yolks
water 80+ gr (I used 80 gr of egg whites, instead)

salt 4 gr

mix water, eggs, sugar and salt, dissolve very well and add 100 gr of flour; whip to create a smooth cream, add the poolish, mix well, add the remaining flour and work to get a smooth dough, add the butter in 2 turns and knead until the dough is perfectly smooth and elastic. It's sticky, better use a kneading machine or a bread machine (as I did). Let double in a warm environment.

Second dough:

mix 20 gr of sugar (I used 50) with 60 gr of flour and knead them in the dough, add 2 egg yolks (one at a time) and 1 teaspoon of honey, mix until they are perfectly embedded, add 55 gr of butter and knead the dough until it's perfectly elastic. Add some vanilla extract, some orange zest ( I used the grated zest of two lemons, instead) and 200 gr of candied orange zest, mix until they are perfectly distributed and let the dough rest for one hour.

Fold the dough and fill the mould as explained in the pictures in the linked article and let rise in a warm environment until the dough gets 2 cm below the border of the mould.

Cover the surface with the almond glaze (I changed it: 100 gr of almond finely chopped with 20 gr of durum flour and 120 of sugar, then mixed with enough egg white to get a very very dense cream), spread some almond on top of the glaze and cook at 180°C for 50 minutes.

This is the last I made, of the many;)

Unfortunately the glaze cracked because of the incredible oven spring.



The texture was a bit of a disappointment because it didn't come out as open-crumbed as in many other occasions. Taste is wondeful ;)


ananda's picture

Hi Nico,

I rarely get that turned on by cakes; but this really looks something special.

I love that you have been able to apply such long and complex processes to this

Great stuff

Best wishes


nicodvb's picture

Thanks a lot Andy!

This cake has a really special taste and a very soft consistence. It also keeps well for a lot of time if enveloped in a plastic bag. I made it for easter; next week I'll post the pictures of the inside.

pmccool's picture

but I had to stop to wipe the drool off my chin.  Those look spectacular!  And the flavor has to be stellar, too!

Very well done, Nico.  I actually like the crackled look of the glaze; it hints that good things are going on inside.

Well done!


foolishpoolish's picture


Well i think your pictures speak volumes for the awesomness of your Colomba. I was going to try a different formula this easter but don't think I've got the patience to babysit a stiff starter and two doughs for 2 or 3 days. Your use of a 100% hydration starter is ingenious.

Ironically in my (recent) experience, I've found using a higher hydration starter can give *sourer* results than a frequently-refreshed stiff starter. Also it can contribute to weaker (less elastic at any rate) dough if used in large proportions. Moving the salt to the first dough was a really smart move and obviously paid off. I must try this in the future.

Nice work!



nicodvb's picture

that put me on the right track after many in depth discussions  on the dynamics of liquid vs stiff sourdoughs.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Wow Nico!

Just beautiful, and I like that crackled glaze too. Can't wait to see the crumb shot.

I could tell you were really understanding it, but you've done a really beautiful job of taking all the information, processing it, then applying it to create the bread you want, your way. I am so proud of you :-)  I look forward to seeing what you come up with next.


nicodvb's picture

...theory and applications ;)))

I'm looking forward to cut it, really.


Many thanks to all of you for your kindness

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A è magnifica! I also favour the crackled glaze. I just wish I could reach into the screen and taste some. I am new to sourdough so this is something to aspire to long term. Congratulations on having the skill to do it now.


nicodvb's picture

I uploaded a picture of the crumb, although I was a bit disappointed because it wasn't as open as in other occasions. Anyway the taste was delicious.

Daisy_A's picture

Hi nico,

I'm looking for Christmas recipes at the moment and particularly panettone.

Can I ask you, is this a similar dough to panettone? I ask this because we can get some decent Italian panettone in the UK and this looks more like them than some of the recipes that are flagged up for panettone itself.

If there are differences between colomba and panettone could you help me understand what to change or point me in the way of a decent recipe link for panettone. It can be in Italian.

Thanks for your consideration of this.  Best wishes, Daisy_A

nicodvb's picture

Hi Daisy,

many bakers use the same base dough for Panettone and Colomba. What changes, most of the time,  are only the filling (raisins and  candied orange zest) and the topping (no topping on panettone, but I  have to say that I like a nice glossing of almonds, egg whites and sugar on top).

This is the recipe for a 3kg dough:

There's a small amount of butter less than in colomba, but I like better the added fat:-)

Moreover I prefer to use a small amount of added sugar: 120gr for 1kg of dough.

Daisy_A's picture

Hi nico,

Many thanks for this information and for the link, both of which gave much valued detail. Stratospherically good panettone - that will do me! Formula looks good. Although I'm not sure what my first attempts will be like. We shall see...

I have also read in quite a lot of places that for panettone the sourdough culture needs to be strong on yeasts but still 'sweet', i.e. not much acetic activity, or even lactic? That this is the reason for tying it in a bag, as on that link? Is there anything in that?

I am thinking I might try the raisin water leaven I have cultivated so carefully, as that is exactly that - very strong raising capacity but a sweet raisin flavour. Would complement panettone I think. I have prepared it in a similar way with several leaven builds. In contrast my normal sourdough culture is quite sour as I like tangy breads!

Thanks for responding so quickly. Helped as I am planning an outing to the Wholefood Coop for crystallised fruits. 

Wishing you continued good baking.

Best wishes, Daisy_a

nicodvb's picture

are the way to go in order to build a levain with very strong raising capacity. Debra wrote a couple of precious threads on this subject.

As for bonding I would avoid it: the original recipe doesn't require it and in one of the aforementioned threads it was explained that it's not really necessary.

The amount of acid you want to limit is acetic. I don't know how strong a  water yeast is so I can't comment on it, but if in doubt I recommend to use a more tested method. This kind of levained require a lot of ingredients, time and patience, so you don't want to drop everything in the thrash :)

Daisy_A's picture

Hi nico,

Thanks for this. Will avoid bonding then and try to limit acetic acid.

I am going with frequent refreshments for all my leavens at present, given the cold, cold weather here :-). Am using raisin water as a catalyst for a flour based leaven, a bit like Dan Lepard.

Will keep feeding them all and see which is quickest and sweetest ;-). Am also considering a fresh yeast sponge but not done that yet either. So it's a big adventure. You are right, though - don't want to spend hours and then throw the thing away!

Best wishes, Daisy_a

elledeca's picture

Hi Nico,

I am getting ready for Easter and I tried your recipe, as well as the original one on the Italian website. I had little success with both and I'm trying to work out what the problem may be.

I fed my starter the night before starting the poolish. The poolish took quite some time to triple (around 5 hours in kitchen at 21 C), how long did yours take?

Once mixed, the dough seemed alive and had some air bubbles on the surface. I left it overnight covered at around 19 C and the morning after it had not risen at all.

To try to "save it" I added some bakers' yeast in the second dough, but again it did not rise and remained completely flat.

I had the same problem also wih the original recipe - there I also added yeast in the second dough and it seemed that the natural yeast woke up in the oven, with oven spring doubling the volume or more.

I wondered if my starter was not strong enough, but I used it to bake bread on the same day and it worked fine.

My resting tempterature is probably too low, but this should slow down the growth, not kill it completely.

So I think there might be something in the dough that kills/inhibits the natural yeast, but what could that be?

I also wonder if it may be overmixing - I rarely use the kitchenaid and I kept it going for quite a while (20 minutes on 4) hoping that the dough woudl form a ball - it did not but it was very elastic with very thin windowpane.

I would be grateful for any views - I might try again for the third time next weekend