Traditional Italian Easter Bread

Traditional Italian Easter Bread cut into slices

The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 25 mins
Total: 45 mins
Servings: 24 servings
Yield: 4 loaves
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
177 Calories
5g Fat
26g Carbs
6g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 177
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5g 7%
Saturated Fat 2g 11%
Cholesterol 39mg 13%
Sodium 149mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 0mg 2%
Calcium 15mg 1%
Iron 1mg 8%
Potassium 90mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Like many traditional cultures that celebrate Easter, Italians have their versions of pane di Pasqua or Easter bread. This is an Italian-American family's traditional Easter bread recipe that is braided but the bread can take other forms, such as a loaf if you desire.

This rich and aromatic Italian bread Easter specialty is served with a simple icing, making for a festive and delicious Easter treat. It's similar in taste and texture to panettone but shaped differently and does not contain raisins or candied fruits. Instead, it relies on anise and lemon for its flavors.

It's not uncommon to find variations throughout Italy. Depending on which region of Italy you live in, Easter bread can take different shapes and different names. In the Southwest, in a region known as Calabria, it's known as sguta, cuzzupa, or cu l’ovo, while other regions call it scarcella or gurrugulo. In Sicily, small loaves shaped like dolls, known as pupi cu l’uova, are baked with a hard-cooked egg in the center. There also is a cheese-filled bread baked into a tall cylindrical pan that is known as crescia al formaggio and, in Tuscany, there is pan di Ramerino, a savory loaf that incorporates spices, olive oil, raisins, walnuts, and rosemary.

Ingredients

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) envelope active dry yeast

  • 1/4 cup warm water, about 100 F

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup milk

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 teaspoon anise seeds

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons anise extract

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract

  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Traditional Italian Easter Bread ingredients

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  2. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with a small pinch of the sugar. Let sit 10 minutes until foamy.

    Yeast and water in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  3. After the 10 minutes, whisk in the remaining sugar, milk, eggs, anise seeds, anise extract, lemon extract, lemon zest, salt, oil, and melted butter. Combine well by hand, with a hand mixer, or in a stand mixer.

    Sugar, milk, eggs, anise seeds, anise extract, lemon extract, lemon zest, salt, oil, and melted butter in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  4. Once everything is well combined, mix in the flour, one cup at a time, to form a wet, sticky dough.

    dough in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  5. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the surface, to form a smooth and elastic dough.

    Italian Easter bread dough on a floured surface

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  6. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Lightly oil the surface of the dough, and cover the bowl with a damp towel. Place in the oven with the light on (but no heat). The dough needs to rise until doubled in size, which will take between 6 to 12 hours. This is a slow-rising dough that can be left overnight without fear of it expanding so much that it runs over the bowl.

    Italian easter bread dough in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  7. When doubled, punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into four pieces.

    dough cut into four pieces

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  8. Take one piece and cut it into three strips. Braid and form into a circle. Repeat with remaining dough.

    Italian Easter bread dough braided into a loaf form

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  9. Place wreath loaves on a silicone mat or parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover very loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rise for 2 hours. 

    Italian Easter bread dough braids shaped into circles on a parchment linked pan

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  10. Heat oven to 350 F. Once loaves have risen, bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 190 F to 200 F. Remove and cool on wire racks.

    Traditional Italian Easter Breads on a cooling rack

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

  11. Once cooled completely, the loaves can be served immediately, or stored in an airtight container or zip top bag for up to three days, or freeze for longer storage.

    Traditional Italian Easter Bread

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Estrada

Tip

Frost the loaves with a simple lemon icing.


Variations


Some variations are baked in the shape of a wreath to symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ, while others consist of three-plaited braids, as in this recipe, to represent the Holy Trinity. Others are made into a loaf in the shape of a dove that is called colomba Pasquale. Often, brightly colored hard-cooked eggs are nestled in the dough before baking.

How to Store and Freeze Italian Easter Bread

This bread will keep at room temperature if it's well wrapped or in an airtight container for up to 3 days. You can also freeze this bread in a zip-close freezer bag (wrap the bread first) for 3 to 4 months. Defrost overnight at room temperature and reheat in a 325 F oven, wrapped in foil, if desired.

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