|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 5g||7%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||11%|
|Total Carbohydrate 26g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||7%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||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.|
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 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 you live in Italy, Easter bread can take different shapes and different names. In the southwest region of Calabria, it's known as sguta, cuzzupa, or cu l’ovo. In other regions, it's called 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 in a tall cylindrical pan that is known as crescia al formaggio. In Tuscany, there is pan di Ramerino, a savory loaf that incorporates spices, olive oil, raisins, walnuts, and rosemary.
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
Gather the ingredients.
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.
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.
Once everything is well combined, mix in the flour, 1 cup at a time, to form a wet, sticky dough.
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.
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 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.
When doubled, punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 pieces.
Take 1 piece and cut it into 3 strips. Braid and form into a circle. Repeat with remaining dough.
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.
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.
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 frozen for longer storage.
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 di pasqua. Often, brightly colored hard-cooked eggs are nestled in the dough before baking.
Frost the loaves with a simple lemon icing.
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 three days. You can also freeze it in a zip-close freezer bag (wrap the bread first) for three to four months. Defrost overnight at room temperature and reheat in a 325 F oven, wrapped in foil, if desired.