ITALIAN EASTER CAKE
Here in Sicily, I use pizzuta almonds for a crunchy glaze, and simply bake in a round pan rather than shaping like the traditional colomba-dove.
Heat the milk to 105° F (40° C) and pour into a medium size bowl; mix in the 1 tsp sugar. Crumble the yeast into the milk and let soften for 5 minutes. Mix with a fork to dissolve yeast, then add flour and mix thoroughly with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and place in warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 30-45 minutes.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and let cool. In a large bowl, beat the eggs & yolk with a fork, then mix in sugar, salt, vanilla, and lemon and orange rinds. Stir in the butter. Stir in the risen sponge. Mix energetically until well amalgamated. Gradually mix in the 3 cups (400 grams) of flour.
Turn out dough onto well-floured board and knead until smooth- add additional flour if too sticky. Knead in the sultanas. Place the dough in a large buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hr.
When the dough has risen, fold it over itself in the bowl several times, then shape as desired, either as one large round cake, 2 smaller round cakes, or 2 colombe-dove shapes. I made one large cake in an 11” (28 cm) springform pan. Butter the bottom of the pan, then line the inside ring with parchment paper so that it is above the rim of the pan by several inches (5-7 cm), and secure with a metal paper clip. Place dough in pan, and flatten so that it is even and touches the side of the pan. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise until doubled, 60-90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375° F (190°C).
In a food processor, grind the almonds and sugar by pulsing, until they are finely chopped. Add the cornstarch and egg white and blend well. Carefully spoon the glaze over the cake dough,- do not push down on the dough, which will deflate it and ruin your efforts! Scatter the whole almonds over the surface of the glaze and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.
Place the cake pan on the bottom rack of the oven, and bake for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325° F (170° C) and bake for a further 20-40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. If the top starts to darken too much, cover it with aluminum foil or a foil cake pan to prevent it from burning. Cool on a rack. If made a day ahead, cover well in plastic wrap to keep fresh.
While the traditional shape of this cake is a colomba – the dove that is the symbol of peace - the dove shape is a bit awkward without a special pan, so here in Sicily I make one large round cake which gives spectacular results.