I have a cake craving. I am fantasising about Colomba Pasquale (Easter Dove), a soft, sweet, traditional Italian treat. Like panettone – only better, some say. A pigeon-shaped pastry; a moist, buttery, bready cake topped with a sugary almond icing. Fluffy, moreish and melt-in-the-mouth.
It was a Milanese baker Angelo Motta, who popularised panettone at the beginning of the 20th century, who created the Colomba Pasquale. Instead of the dome or cupola-shape of the traditional Christmas panettone he turned it into a dove of peace for Easter. (Pedants might say it looks more like a doughy four-leaf clover.)
As well as the shape, he changed the recipe, taking out the raisins and adding a little something extra – amaretto. The rich, springy sponge is pricked with cubes of candied orange peel and topped with crunchy sugar and almonds.
I google Italian delis in Inverness. Then drive into town. “I’ve ordered them,” says the man in the little Crown Deli. “But I’m still waiting. It might be tomorrow, it might be another week...”
“Are you going to London? Princi’s bakery in Soho is sure to have them,” he adds helpfully - if a little randomly.
I’m not going to London.
I pick up some pancetta, a leek, still specked with soil, fresh cream and a big bag of organic pappardelle pasta. Supper.
“Try Valvona and Crolla.” I am going to Edinburgh. Sometime soon. I check the website. They’ve had their delivery – and stock three different types: Colomba Sovrana (with sultanas, citrus peel and whole almonds), Colomba Cioccolato (with sweet Italian chocolate, no candied fruit) and Colomba Antica (rich in candied peel with a hazelnut and almond icing).
I google again, becoming slightly obsessed by all things Colomba-shaped. Luigi’s in London (which stocks Truffle honey - I’m momentarily sidetracked) offers mail order (www.luigismailorder.com).
“We deliver as far as the north of Scotland.”
“That’s good – I’m in the north of Scotland. Have you had your delivery?”
“ They came in ten days ago and are flying off the shelves. It’s such a small window. We stock panettone all year now – not just Christmas – but we only have Colomba cakes in the run up to Easter.”
“Classico or chocolate? Which is the most popular?”
“Definitely Classico – but only because not many people have tried the chocolate…”
I could, of course, try making my own….
I google again and find a recipe. To create the light, fluffy texture the dough needs to rise over and over again. It takes forever. It looks far too pernickety. What are delis for, I think, as I pick up the phone and give Luigi’s a call…