Our keto and gluten-free recipe for Italian Easter bread (sometimes called Italian Easter cake) is healthy, delicious and easy! You can make just by hand, no mixer needed. Our Easter dove bread is made with almond flour and pea protein, it’s sugar-free and great for high protein low-carb and keto diets.
The colomba di Pasqua or colomba pasquale is a sweet and deliciously fragrant bread in the shape of a dove that is traditionally eaten in Italy during Easter:
Store bought colomba bread, just like Easter chocolate eggs, are traditionally given as Easter gifts. They are widely available at stores around Easter time in Italy and Brazil. The popularity of this delicious Italian bread is growing, as I can easily find now even in Dubai!
It’s a shame that you won’t find a ready made low-carb, sugar-free version of this sweet Easter treat anywhere. So, here’s an relatively easy keto and gluten-free recipe to fix this problem!
Main ingredients for the keto Colomba
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 the greatest 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 quantity.
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 not cold, because they will be added directly to the yeast and we don’t want to bring the yeast temperature down. 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 the sweet keto bread the right texture, by helping the dough come together and trapping the air inside.
Active dry yeast mixture – To start the yeast, and give it fuel for growth, we make a mix of warm water, inulin and sour cream (or plain yogurt). Inulin can be difficult to find, but it’s no problem if you want to 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, so no extra carbs are left in the bread. Sweeteners cannot be used here.
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: 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 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 are essential. I like also adding rose water and orange essence, for an delicious flowery aroma. If you can find, you can use just Fiori di Sicilia instead. Fiori di Sicilia 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 let it overwhelm the whole recipe.
Colomba di Pasqua fillings
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 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 here 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 and used allulose for the syrup.
How to make the keto Easter sweet bread
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 test the temperature of the mixture. It should be just warm (not hot or cold). Hot water can kill the yeast, and cool water slows it down. Add the yeast, mix slightly (1), and 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. It might be right now, or after the dough has risen.
Shaping the 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.
Either way, 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.
After you are satisfied with the shape, and right before taking the keto colomba to the oven, add any extra decorations you wish (chocolate chips or cranberry for eyes, and almonds, whole or sliced for details and feathers, for example) and brush the colomba with the remaining tablespoon of beaten egg, that you probably forgot about. It’s in the fridge!
Bake the colomba until it’s a sexy shade of golden brown, and enjoy your beautiful and delicious Easter bread!
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- 150 grams almond flour
- 75 grams pea protein powder
- 60 grams keto sugar substitute
- 1 tablespoon psyllium husk
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1 teaspoon double action baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon instant dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon inulin (or 2 teaspoons honey or sugar)
- 60 grams sour cream or plain natural or Greek yogurt
- 125 grams water
Liquid and flavoring
- 3 eggs (room temperature)
- 30 grams butter (melted)
- ½ teaspoon lecithin (optional)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon almond essence
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons rose water plus 1 teaspoon orange essence, or 1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (optional)
Fillings: Add up to 4 tablespoons total
- Dried cranberries (sugar-free)
- Chopped candied orange peels (sugar-free)
- Keto chocolate chips
- A handful of whole almonds and/or sliced almonds (optional)
- Mix hot water with the inulin, honey or sugar in a medium bowl. Add the sour cream or yogurt and ginger, and test the temperature of the mixture. It should be just warm (not hot or cold). Add the yeast and keep it covered in a warm place away from draft. Let it proof for about 10 minutes, while you prepare the next steps.
- Mix well the dry ingredients: almond flour, pea protein powder, sweetener, xanthan gum, psyllium husk, double-action baking powder and salt.
- Beat together the 3 eggs and remove 1 tablespoon worth into a small dish, keep it in the fridge to be used for brushing the colomba before baking.
- Melt the butter in the microwave or bain-marie (don't boil), and mix the lecithin in until dissolved (if using).
- Now check on the yeast mixture. If it's fluffed up and bubbly, add in the beaten eggs, the vinegar and flavors: lemon zest, almond extract, vanilla, and rose water plus orange extract or Fiori di Sicilia essence.
- Add the dry mixture, and combine. Mix it until a soft, sticky dough forms. Don't be gentle, you don't have gluten to develop, but the dough must be mixed well.
- Add in the melted butter, and mix for a couple of minutes.
- Add the chosen fillings, fold them in to spread throughout the dough evenly. The dough is ready to rise now, so you can choose your preferred way of shaping the dove from the two methods below.
- Method A: For a finer dove shaped by hand: Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl, cover with a towel and leave somewhere warm to rise for 2-3 hours BEFORE shaping the dove. After growing, the dough will be less sticky and easier to shape by hand. It will keep the details better as it will not change form after shaping, but the bread will be less fluffy.
Method B: For a fluffier sweet bread with a simpler shape: Line a large baking pan or cookie sheet with wax paper, put the dough in the center and immediately shape your dove using a spatula. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave the tray somewhere warm for 2-3 hours until about doubled in size.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C (392 °F)
- Before you put the colomba in the oven, add any extra decorations you wish (chocolate chips or cranberry for eyes, almonds, whole or sliced for details and feathers, for example) and brush the colomba with the remaining tablespoon of beaten egg.
- When ready, put the dove bread in the oven middle rack and bake it for 15 minutes. Then, turn down the temperature to 180 °C (356 °F) and bake for more 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
US Cups approximate conversion: Use 1 ½ cup almond flour, 2 ½ scoops pea protein powder, ¼ cup sour cream or plain natural or Greek yogurt, ½ cup water. Other ingredients as indicated.
Nutrition information displayed on card is for the plain sweet bread without fillings. If counting macros, add your chosen fillings to the calculation.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 179Total Fat: 13gNet Carbohydrates: 2.4gProtein: 11g
Nutrition information is provided as a guideline only. Different brands of ingredients may have different nutrition facts. If tracking macros, remake the calculations using the nutrition facts from the labels of the ingredients you selected. Net carbs calculated exclude carbs from insoluble fiber and sugar alcohols.