The colomba di Pasqua (Italian Easter bread or Italian Easter cake) is an yeast risen bread shaped like a dove, sweet and deliciously fragrant, with almonds, rose water and orange peel. You’ll love this healthier version: it’s perfect for low-carb and keto diets, high protein, sugar-free and gluten-free!
Store bought colomba bread, just like Easter chocolate eggs, are traditionally given as Easter gifts.
It’s a shame that you won’t find a low-carb or gluten-free version of this sweet Easter treat in stores. So, here’s a healthy recipe to fix this problem!
The LikeHotKeto Colomba does take quite a few ingredients, but to make a gluten-free and sugar-free sweet bread taste as close to the original some chemistry is necessary!
The keto flours: I used a combination of almond flour and pea protein isolate. High protein keto baking is my thing, so I try to bake with protein powders as much as possible – it’s really the best way to improve the macros in a recipe.
Pea protein powder is my favorite for baking, as it doesn’t dry up the baked goods as much as, say, whey. Still, for a sweet and fluffy bread, going all in in pea protein is really a no-go, so I used almond flour as the backbone of this keto Easter bread.
Keto sugar substitute: You can use erythritol, xylitol, or allulose sweeteners, in blends with stevia or monk fruit for sweetness equal to that of real sugar. If using the plain sweeteners (not blended), the keto Easter bread it will be a little less sweet. It’s no problem if you want to increase the amount.
Eggs and butter: this is a super rich sweet bread, so it takes eggs and some butter. I use grass-fed, unsalted butter for the best flavor and nutritional content. As the butter is melted in the microwave, there’s no need to first bring it to room temperature. But it’s essential that the eggs are, or they will bring down the yeast mix temperature. Leave the eggs outside the fridge for a few hours before using, longer if your home environment is cooler.
Psyllium husk and xanthan gum: in the absence of gluten, these ingredients give elasticity to the dough and make the sweet keto bread fluffy by helping trapping the air inside.
Active dry yeast mixture: A mix of warm water, inulin and sour cream (or plain yogurt) helps start the yeast, and give it fuel for growth. Inulin can be difficult to find, but the Easter bread will still be keto if you swap it for honey or even regular sugar. The yeast will consume the sugars and produce the gas that will make the sweet bread grow, and there will be nearly no carbs left. Sweeteners cannot be substituted.
Ginger powder: There are some ingredients that should be avoided when baking with yeast, as they may limit yeast growth – such as salt and sugar (in excess), mustard and cinnamon. That’s one of the reasons why cinnamon rolls don’t actually have cinnamon in the dough, instead it’s just added in a swirl. But there are ingredients that yeast just loves, and makes them party harder and get your dough to rise higher. One of such ingredients is ginger powder. You don’t need much, just a pinch added to the yeast and warm water mix is enough.
Lecithin: an optional ingredient, commonly used as a bread enhancer. I used in my keto and gluten-free Italian focaccia, (it’s great, you should try it!) and again here. Lecithin helps keep the bread fresh longer – keto and gluten-free breads really suffer from premature aging, i.e. dry too quickly. Soy lecithin is easier to find, but if you are trying to avoid GMOs or have soy allergies, you can use powdered sunflower lecithin.
Double action baking powder (optional): you might think it’s strange, using baking powder and yeast in the same recipe. It is, in a way, but I decided to use as an insurance. You see, the keto dough is really heavy and rich, so it needs all the help it can get to grow. Almond flour and pea protein are not really the favorite foods for yeast.
The double-action means that this baking powder will react and create bubbles twice: once when added, upon first contact with the liquid, and then again when exposed to the heat in the oven. So, I count on the double-action baking powder for the second part, to squeeze a few more bubbles of CO2 and help the keto colomba rise a little bit more while in the oven. Does it really work? Well, I’m not sure. If you have baking powder in your pantry, you might as well give it a go. Totally optional.
Flavors: vanilla, lemon zest, and almond essence form the base. For the delicious flowery aroma, add a mix of rose water and orange essence, or just some drops of Fiori di Sicilia. This is an Italian specialty citrusy and flowery flavored essence that takes sweet breads and cakes to a whole new level. Fiori di Sicilia varies in strength by brand and some are really potent, in which case you’ll need to adjust quantity to not overwhelm the recipe.
Keto Easter bread filling ideas
I made one colomba with sugar-free dried cranberries and candied orange peels, and the other one with sugar-free keto chocolate chips, a la chocottone (I’ve always preferred chocolate chip panettone, because raisins).
Our favorite flavor is the orange and cranberry one! But it’s also more hassle to source or make the sugar-free dried fruit yourself, so the chocolate chip version is more practical.
I said it’s more hassle to source, and I’m serious. Sugar-free orange peels are impossible, and the cranberries I found that are soft/chewy and mention no sugar added are generally sweetened with apple juice concentrate. Someone needs to tell them that juice concentrate is sugar 🙄 These cranberries are really sugar-free, but they are drier, if you don’t mind the texture.
If you want to make sugar-free versions of candied orange peels, and/or dried cranberries yourself:
- Sugar-free dried cranberries: you can either buy some or make your own following this easy instructions by Carolyn.
- Candied orange peels are more difficult to find sugar-free, so I made this recipe from Lisa but used allulose for the syrup.
How to make
Start a few hours early, by removing the eggs from the fridge. It’s imperative to have them at room temperature, so that they don’t bring the yeast temperature down, which ruins their party and makes the dough rise slow down.
Mix hot water with the inulin, honey or sugar in a medium bowl. Add the sour cream or yogurt and ginger, and before adding the yeast (1) make sure the mixture is just warm (not hot or cold). Hot water can kill the yeast, and cool water slows it down. keep it covered in a warm place away from draft.
Give it about 10 minutes, and come back to it after preparing the next steps. You should find that the mixture is bubbly and at least doubled in size (2). f it hasn’t, something went wrong with the yeast. Discard the mixture and try again.
Mix well all of the dry ingredients: almond flour, pea protein isolate, keto sugar equivalent of choice, xanthan gum, psyllium husk, double-action baking powder and salt. Be sure to smash up any flour clumps, or pass it through a sieve.
Beat together the 3 eggs. Set aside one tablespoon worth of beaten egg into a small dish, and keep it in the fridge to be used for brushing the colomba right before baking.
Melt the butter. If using lecithin, mix it into the butter to help it dissolve.
Now back to the yeast mixture. Add in the beaten eggs, the apple cider vinegar and the flavors mix (lemon zest, almond and vanilla extracts, plus the optional (but highly recommended) Fiori di Sicilia extract or a mix of rose water plus orange extract. Whisk everything up (3).
Add the dry ingredients mixture, all at once (4), and combine. I use a large silicone spatula, a large wooden spoon can be used as well. No you don’t need a standing mixture for this recipe, isn’t it great?? Sure you can use one if you’d like. Anyway, mix it until a soft, sticky dough forms (5). Don’t be gentle, you don’t have gluten to develop, but the dough must be mixed well.
Add in the melted butter (6), and mix for a couple of minutes more, it will smooth out the dough (7).
Add the chosen fillings, and mix to combine (8). It’s time to choose how to shape the colomba.
How to shape dove bread
I’ll share the truth here. It’s embarrassing, but it is what it is. I’ve eaten a lot of colomba Easter bread in my life. But I never knew the shape was supposed to represent a dove. Yeah… that’s right. For me, colomba was the weird, lumpy looking Easter panettone.
In my defense: when buying a bread that looks like this, if you don’t speak Italian, how can you possibly relate the shape to a dove? 🤷♂️ You can’t blame the factories though, imagine the price these would sell for if people were actually making them by hand.
Anyway, now that I know that colomba is Italian for dove, I decided that I wanted to make my own keto Easter bread properly shaped like one.
I tried twice, and I will admit that the two styles of doves I managed to shape were by no means an example of fine arts in dough sculpting. But I don’t think I’d be flattering myself in saying that both look more bird like than any commercially available colomba di Pasqua I’ve eaten.
The main difference between my 2 doves is when and how they were shaped. In the pictures throughout the post you can see a might sexy slim dove with sliced almond feathers on the neck and detailed wings and tail, and a rather fat dove, let’s say fluffy, because it was, with one wing up, and a hanging belly.
The fluffy dove was shaped immediately after the dough was mixed. I used a spatula, as it was too sticky to touch. And then left to grow, which made most of the little detail I could add disappear as everything puffed up. The good part is that the bread was softer and fluffier!
The slim dove first grew as a ball, and was then shaped by hand. This way I managed the finer detail, as after the dough grew it was less sticky and easier to handle, but at the same time the handling made the dough lose a lot of air, which resulted in a flatter sweet bread.
Rising the dough
The colomba will grow to near double its size while proofing, but to reach there it will take some time. It can be anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, and the temperature of the ingredients and of your own environment play a huge role. Keto and gluten-free dough is heavier and requires a little extra warmth.
If your kitchen is warm like a hot, humid summer day in the beach, you don’t need any help. But if it’s cool inside I recommend you heat up the oven just for a few minutes, turn it off, and put the colomba dough inside when it feels just nice and warm, to accelerate the process.
Add decorations and bake
The time to add decorations is right before taking the colomba into the oven. You can use your imagination and make it look a lot more dove like than the simple store bought bread!
Some decoration ideas are chocolate chips or cranberry for the eyes, and almonds, whole or sliced for details and feathers. After you’re satisfied with your dove appearance, brush it with the remaining tablespoon of beaten egg.
Bake the colomba until it’s a sexy shade of golden brown, and enjoy your beautiful and delicious keto Easter bread!
Copyright Pris Frank for LikeHotKeto. Please DO NOT SCREENSHOT OR COPY/PASTE recipes to social media or websites. We’d LOVE for you to share a link to this recipe instead 🙂