Traditional Italian Easter Bread

Italian Easter Bread

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  • Total: 45 mins
  • Prep: 20 mins
  • Cook: 25 mins
  • Yield: 4 loaves (24 servings)
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
97 Calories
6g Fat
10g Carbs
2g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 loaves (24 servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 97
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 7%
Saturated Fat 2g 12%
Cholesterol 43mg 14%
Sodium 76mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 10g 4%
Dietary Fiber 0g 2%
Protein 2g
Calcium 25mg 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 most Old World cultures, 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 like a loaf if you desire.

This rich and aromatic bread served with a simple icing makes for a festive and delicious Easter treat that is similar in taste and texture to panettone but shaped differently and does not contain raisins or candied fruits.

Ingredients

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup water (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 butter (melted)
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more as needed)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  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.

  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.

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

  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.

  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.

  7. When doubled, punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface; divide into four pieces. Shape into four small oval loaves. If desired, each piece can be cut into three strips and braided to give it a traditional Easter bread appearance.

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

  9. 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.

  10. Once cooled completely, the loaves can be served as is or frosted with a simple lemon icing.

  11. Serve with butter, if desired, and tea, coffee, or a glass of red wine. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to three days or freeze for longer storage.

Italian Easter Bread Variations

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.

Some 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 can be done in this recipe, to represent the Holy Trinity, and yet 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.

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.

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