This fluffy and eggy Italian Easter Bread, Pane di Pasqua, is slightly sweet and bursting the with flavors of citrus and anise.
Pane di Pasqua: A Symbolic Italian Easter Bread
It is no surprise that bread has incredible significance around many cultures’ Easter tables.
Just as bread for centuries has been the prime source of bodily sustenance for daily life, Christ, whose resurrection Christians celebrate on Easter, is considered “the bread of life,” (John 6:35), in whom believers will find their daily, spiritual sustenance.
This Italian Easter bread is braided with eggs, which also hold incredible Easter significance as signs from nature of new life, just as we are celebrating new life in the risen Christ.
Due to the ending of the fast of Lent, where households would traditionally refrain from rich and sweet dishes, Easter breads are often rich, eggy breads that can range in sweetness, and sometimes are studded with dried fruit, which at one time was a luxury item. (Like this Romanian Easter Bread or Hot Cross Buns).
These are truly celebration breads that each household adapts to their own definition and means of celebrating.
Flavoring Pane di Pasqua
Pane di Pasqua is this oh so fluffy and ever so slightly sweet. This is the perfect background for the light and bright, springy flavors of citrus and anise.
Orange juice and anise are the main flavoring agents in this fluffy bread, and they mingle together quite well, with neither over powering the other as you enjoy each bite.
In order to really brighten the flavor of the bread, we use the zest and juice from the orange.
And, while 1/2 tsp of anise may seem like a lot, particularly if you’re not an anise lover, the flavor really mellows as the bread cooks, leaving just a hint of spice in the finished loaf.
How To Make Braided Italian Easter Bread
While this loaf is quite impressive (as is fitting an Easter celebration table) and does contain a number of steps, it it definitely a bread that is worth your time to make.
- Make your dough: The dough for Pane di Pasqua should be soft and slightly tacky, but not sticky. It takes a little kneading by hand to reach a smooth consistency, but you can always use your stand mixer, if you desire.
- Shape your dough: After the first rise, the dough is divided into three sections. Each section is rolled into a rope and the three are braided into a nice long braid that is pinched together into a circle on your baking sheet.
- Add the eggs: Colorful dyed eggs are then tucked into the braid. As the dough rises they settle into place.
- Bake your bread: After the final rise, it’s time to bake the bread! Like magic, the bread puffs up around the eggs and turns a beautiful golden brown.
- Let it cool: While it may be tempting to dive right into the fresh from the oven bread, the hot bread is fragile and it’s best to let it cool for at least 5-10 minutes on the baking sheet before trying to move it.
Baking Eggs In The Oven
What makes this bread even more unique is that raw, dyed eggs are braided right into the dough before it is baked.
Don’t worry about those raw eggs though, because the eggs cook as the bread bakes.
So not only do you have an Easter bread, you end up with dyed, hard-cooked eggs too!
Just be very careful as you’re dying your raw eggs. You don’t want to break them before they get cooked!
Maybe that’s not the best task for the little kiddos.
We’ll save the hard boiled eggs for them and let you have fun dying the raw ones!
Our Easy Italian Easter Bread Recipe
The dough for this Italian Easter bread is a very rich dough, containing milk, eggs, and butter.
This makes it very moist and slightly sticky as it comes together. But, after a bit of kneading, it becomes silky smooth and very easy to work with.
After one rise, this fragrant dough gets divided into three pieces and rolled into ropes that will be braided. If you find that the dough springs back on itself as you try to roll it into your 24 inch strand, stop rolling and let the strand rest for 5 minutes (covered with your damp tea towel). This will relax the gluten proteins and make it much easier to continue rolling your strand.
After you shape your bread into a circle and pinch your ends together, it’s time to tuck the eggs into the braided dough.
This part can get a little tricky. Just gently separate the strands of the braid and tuck the egg in.
The most important thing here is to keep the eggs on top of the braid, or even a little towards the center of the circle. If you place them too close to the outer edge of the circle, they tend to roll further outwards as the bread rises.
No matter how the dough chooses to rise around your eggs, the result will be a very impressive loaf.
The beautifully colored eggs and the lovely golden loaf are the perfect recipe for an Easter table centerpiece.
Other Easter Breads
Pane di Pasqua (Italian Easter Bread)
For the Bread
For the Braid
- 6 raw eggs, dyed if desired
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp water
Making The Dough
- In a small bowl, mix the warm milk with the sugar, until dissolved. Add the yeast and set the mixture aside until it begins to foam slightly, 5-10 min.
- While the yeast is hydrating, in a large bowl, mix together 3 c all-purpose flour and the salt. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the orange juice and zest, the beaten eggs, melted butter, and anise. Set aside.
- Add the yeast mixture and orange juice mixture to the flour, stirring until moistened. Add the remaining flour to the dough, a little at a time, mixing until the dough comes together.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, until soft and smooth.
- Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and set in a warm (70-75F), draft-free place to rise for 1 hour.
Shaping the Ring
- Once the dough has doubled turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
- Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and gently roll each into an 24” rope. (If the dough springs back on you, cover the ropes with a damp towel and let rest for 5-10 minutes to relax the gluten. Then try rolling them out again.)
- Pinch one end of all three ropes together and braid the strands loosely. Shape the braid into a ring on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Gently tuck the dyed, raw eggs into the braid. (Be sure to place them on top, or slightly closer to the center of the ring, as opposed to near the outer edge, as the eggs tend to roll to the outer edge of the ring during the final rising time.)
- Gently brush the ring with the beaten egg and water egg wash, being careful around the dyed eggs (the moisture from the egg wash tends to make the dye run).
- Let the ring rise until puffy and nearly doubled, 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Baking The Bread
- Near the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 350F.
- Bake the bread for 25 minutes, until the ring is golden and sounds hollow when tapped gently.
- Let the bread cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
This is one of the recipes from the early days of Curious Cuisiniere. We’ve updated our pictures since we first shared it, but we’ve left some originals here, in case you’ve found us in the past and are looking for that old, familiar image.