Making the starter:
Sprinkle the yeast on the warm milk and let it sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour and sugar, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest overnight (or for at least 6 hours) at room temperature, or until it triples in volume.
Making the dough (FIRST RISING OF THE DOUGH):
On the next day: in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attached, add in the starter, the rest of the yeast, and 2 cups of flour. Mix on medium-low speed for 5 minutes to combine.
Add in sugar and eggs: add the sugar, eggs, last ½ cup of flour, salt, and Fiori di Sicilia (or extracts) into the bowl. On medium speed, mix for about 15 minutes. Add in more flour in very small amounts, if it’s needed, to combine the dough.
Add in the butter: as soon as the dough is elastic, start to add the butter in slowly. Knead on medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and satiny, and is not sticky to touch (the dough should be elastic and bounce back when you touch it).
Mix in candied fruit: dump the dough out onto a clean counter, or work surface. Add in the candied fruit (or chocolate) and mix to combine. Using kitchen gloves helps to work this sticky dough.
Let dough rise: Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place until doubled in volume – for 3-4 hours.
SECOND RISING OF THE DOUGH
Punch down the dough: transfer the dough to a lightly floured clean counter or work area, and punch it down. Separate the dough into two equal portions, with one portion a little longer than the other. Form the divided dough sections into logs.
Prep your paper mold or baking tin: spray a dove bread paper mold with baking spray and place the dough logs into the mold. Start with the first log that goes on bottom of mold to the edges of the wings.
Second portion of dough: place the second dough log on top of the first log, laying it down from the head to the tail. Gently push the dough to fill into any gaps of the mold.
Loosely cover the dough: Loosely cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes (it could take 2 hours), or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 375F degrees.
Make the almond sugar glaze: in a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy and whisk in the almond flour and sugar until you have a white paste-like glaze.
Brush on the almond sugar glaze: as soon as the bread is ready to bake, use a brush to carefully add on the almond sugar glaze. Brush it on softly so you do not deflate the bread. Sprinkle on some pearl sugar and decorate with the almonds.
Bake the colomba: bake on 375°F for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes. If the top is browning too much, carefully tent with aluminum paper for the last 10 minutes of baking. Bake the bread until it is a nice golden brown, or unti an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reads 190°F.
Let the bread cool down: when it’s ready, carefully remove the bread from the oven and place on a rack to cool down. Slice into portions and enjoy!