Traditional Italian Easter Bread

Traditional Italian Easter Bread

The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 25 mins
Total: 45 mins
Servings: 24 servings
Yield: 4 loaves
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
176 Calories
6g Fat
27g Carbs
6g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 176
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 6g 7%
Saturated Fat 2g 11%
Cholesterol 39mg 13%
Sodium 149mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 27g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 0mg 2%
Calcium 17mg 1%
Iron 2mg 8%
Potassium 94mg 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) envelope 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 (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 / 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 / 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 / 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 / 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.

    dough on a floured surface

    The Spruce / 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.

    dough in a bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

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

    dough cut into four pieces

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

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

    dough braided

    The Spruce / 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. 

    braided dough shaped into a circle

    The Spruce / 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 Bread on a cooling rack

    The Spruce / 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 / Julia Estrada

Variation

  • Frost the loaves with a simple lemon icing.
  • 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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