My Italian-Australian family has many traditions, some are easy going and others you don't dare mess with.
The latter ranges from calling nonna who asks why you haven't called her to having a 4-litre can of extra virgin olive oil in the pantry and a spare stashed somewhere else, to always serving Colomba during Easter.
This Italian brioche-style sweet bread is similar to its cousins Panettone and Pandoro, which are eaten at Christmas, except it has a few defining features that make you lust for it again as soon as April is over.
First up, Colomba is baked in a dove-shaped mould, unlike Panettone's mountain shape.
"It's a really symbolic cake because the shape of the dove brings peace, and in Europe, it's served during springtime which brings new life," says Cristina Toscano.
Cristina and her daughter, Isabella Zervos, have run their fine-food gifting service, Cristina Toscano Everything Food, since 2012.
Every Easter, they sell their homemade Colomba based on an original recipe by Toscano's father, Raffaele Launech, a former pastry chef and one of the original co-founders and former owner of Unibic, one of Australia's most popular continental biscuit manufacturers.
"We do the classic Colomba flavoured with citrus and topped with a marzipan glaze and flaked almonds, and we make a choc chip one too because everyone's obsessed with choc chip," says Toscano of her in-demand Colomba that leave the shelves of their Tullamarine warehouse almost as soon as they arrive from the bakery.
"Sometimes we need to say to people, 'Sorry we've run out, but we'll be getting more tomorrow', and they happily come back the next day because they know it's handmade and freshly baked the day before by our team - these aren't made months in advance," adds Zervos.
"It's a really symbolic cake because the shape of the dove brings peace, and in Europe it's served during spring time which brings new life."
The discerning eyes of this mother-daughter duo was inherited from Raffaele. While he was in the kitchen whisking eggs and creaming sugar, Toscano was always by his side.
"My dad used to have his own pastry and biscuit shop in High Street...and I remember being eight and helping serve customers," she laughs.
Making Colomba for his customers was a job Raffaele took seriously, tinkering with his recipe until he absolutely nailed it.
"Coming up to Easter my dad was on tenterhooks because he was up at 3am every morning to work the yeast because if you let the Colomba dough rise for too long in the mould it’s no good," Toscano remembers.
"Nonno actually used to sleep next to the dough in the bakery," confirms Zervos.
At 86, Raffaele is no longer churning out Colomba in the middle of the night, but his fastidious nature still precedes him. "He's our quality control, we'll call him up and the next minute he's at the warehouse sniffing, pulling apart and tasting the fresh batch of Colomba, if he gives us the thumbs up we know it's good to go."
The secret to a good Colomba, according to Toscano, is "making sure it's not too yeasty, it's the right combination of sweet and citrusy, and something I've also learned from dad is letting the Colomba sit for a day after it's baked so the flavours develop."
And the best way to eat it? "Fresh is delicious but I also love it toasted with warm butter," says Toscano. Zervos, on the other hand, is a Colomba purist: "Fresh with coffee or if there are any leftovers, which usually there isn't, mum will use it to make bread and butter pudding".
Either way, one thing is for certain when it comes to Colomba. "It's not Easter without it on the table," says Zervos.
Just make sure you're there when the first slice is cut or you might have to wait until next April for a piece.
Lead image via Flickr.
You can practically taste the Italian grandmotherly love in these gluten-free almond biscuits. Be sure to share them with the passion any good nonna would.