recipe

Italian Easter Bread: the effortless recipe for a beautiful festive Italian pane di Pasqua

Total time: 2H50
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 12 people
By Cookist
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Also known as pane di Pasqua or brioche di Pasqua, Italian Easter bread is a delicious sweet brioche-type bread. It is traditionally served as part of an Easter meal in Italy. It's wonderfully soft, lightly sweet, and made from yeast-raised dough.

Italian Easter bread is braided like challah but is shaped into a wreath and decorated with a colorful dyed Easter egg in the center and garnished with bright sprinkles. It is said it was created in central Italy by medieval nuns who made it during Holy Week, using no less than 40 eggs for every day of Lent.

Today, it's a delicious bread that's typically enjoyed with Neapolitan casatiello, a savory Easter bread made with cheese, cured meats like salami, and lard. If you want to make a stunning loaf of bread that is fun, festive, and easy to make, Italian Easter bread is perfect for you!

Italian Easter Bread Meaning

Italian Easter bread is a highly symbolic dish. The loaf is braided and shaped into a ring or wreath, which symbolizes the crown of thorns that was worn by Jesus during the crucifixion.

Usually, pane di Pasqua is braided with three strands of dough, which represents the Holy Trinity. The Easter egg, which sits in the middle of the loaf, symbolizes Jesus' rebirth.

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Italian Easter Bread Ingredients

Italian Easter bread is similar to brioche, which means it is enriched bread. Flour makes up the bulk of the dough, while milk, butter, eggs, and sugar enrich it.

Yeast is used to leaven the dough.

You'll also need an extra egg for an egg wash, plus some dyed Easter eggs as a decoration.

Sprinkles are a must if you a fun, festive loaf.

How to Make Italian Easter Bread

Even novice bakers can make Italian Easter bread with ease. Gather up your ingredients, and let's get started!

Making the Dough 

To make your Italian Easter bread dough, start by warming the milk and butter in a pot. Don't overheat it – aim for about 120 to 125F. This is warm enough to activate the yeast without killing it.

Next, stir the yeast, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix in the eggs, followed by the warm milk. Sift in half the flour, then beat to combine. Add the rest of the flour bit by bit, and knead the dough on medium-low for 10 to 12 minutes. It should be stiff but still sticky. Turn out the dough and knead it a few more minutes, then cover it and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Shaping and Decorating the Italian Easter Bread

To shape your dough into the characteristic Italian Easter bread shape, slice the dough into nine pieces. Gently roll the pieces into long ropes. Grab three of the ropes and braid them. Make sure to secure the ends so they stick, then shape the braid into a circle.

Put it on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and repeat with the remaining dough. Cover the dough with a damp towel and leave it in a warm place to double in size. If you haven't dyed your eggs, now is a good time to do it.

To decorate the loaves, brush the dough with the egg wash, then garnish them with sprinkles. Put a decorated egg in the center of each braided loaf.

Baking the Italian Easter Bread

Bake the loaves one at a time for 15 to 18 minutes at 350F, or until golden brown. Set on a wire rack to cool completely, then serve and enjoy!

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How to Decorate Eggs for Italian Easter Bread

Dye your eggs the same way you would regular dyed Easter eggs. You can use either hard-boiled or raw eggs; the eggs will cook in the oven. Use brightly colored food-grade dyes. You can color the eggs while the dough is proofing.

Tips for Making the Best Italian Easter Bread

Make sure the milk isn't too hot. If it's too hot, the yeast will die and your bread won't rise. If it's too cold, then the yeast won't activate. Aim for 120 to 125F. Use an instant-read thermometer to know when the milk has reached the correct temperature.

For an extra pop of brightness, add some lemon or orange zest to your Italian Easter bread.

While rapid-rise instant yeast is the easiest option, you can use fresh yeast. You'll need double the amount of fresh yeast if you're using it instead of dried, for a total of 4 ½ teaspoons.

You can use raw or hard-boiled dyed Easter eggs for the center of your Easter bread. The egg will cook in the oven.

Make either a two-strand or three-strand braid for your Italian Easter bread. Two-strand is easier to braid, but a three-strand loaf is far more impressive and symbolic for the holiday.

How to Store Italian Easter Bread

Keep your Italian Easter bread in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Can You Freeze Italian Easter Bread?

You can freeze this tasty bread for long-term storage. Remove the egg, then put the bread in a freezer-safe container or sealable bag. It'll last up to 2 months.

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Ingredients
Milk
1 1/4 cups
unsalted butter, cold
1/3 cup
rapid rise instant yeast
2 1/4 tsp
Kosher Salt
1/8 tsp
Granulated sugar
1/2 cup
large eggs, beaten
2
All-purpose flour, divided
4 cups, plus extra
Large egg, beaten
1
Water
1 tsp
dyed easter eggs
3
colored sprinkles

Instructions

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat the milk and butter in a small pot.

Stir constantly until the butter melts. Warm to 120 to 125F, then remove from the hob.

Mix yeast, sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer.

Add the salt.

Beat in the eggs, followed by the warm milk.

Sift in 2 cups of flour. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, then gradually add the remaining flour. Knead for 10 to 12 minutes until stiff but still sticky.

Lightly flour a work surface. Knead the dough for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Form a ball, then cover the dough with a damp towel. Leave it for 10 minutes to rest.

Cut the dough into 9 equal pieces.

Roll each one into a long rope about 14-inches in length.

Braid 3 of the ropes together, then pinch the dough at each end to secure it.

Form a circle with the braided ropes.

Set on the baking trays. Repeat until you use up the dough.

Cover the dough with a damp towel and leave it in a warm place to double in size.

Preheat your oven to 350F. In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of water.

Brush the dough with the egg wash.

Garnish each loaf with sprinkles.

Set an egg in the center of each braided loaf.

Bake the loaves one at a time for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown.

Set on a wire rack to cool completely, then serve and enjoy!

Notes

Use room-temperature ingredients to make your Italian Easter bread.

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