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Italian Easter Bread, also known as Pane di Pasqua, is a rich and festive yeasted bread braided and decorated with colorful dyed Easter eggs. It’s utterly delicious and bursting with spring flavors of citrus and vanilla.
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This traditional festive Easter bread is soft, tender, and slightly sweet. Which makes it, of course, utterly irresistible and perfect for your holiday table or for gift giving during this beautiful season.
What is Italian Easter Bread?
One of the beautiful things about Easter bread is that it spans cultures. In Easter Bread Recipes from Around the World, we share 20 or more recipes originating in countries all over the world. I’ve also shared some of our traditions of making Paska and Kulich Easter Breads as well as Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday.
This Italian Easter Bread is somewhat similar in flavor and even texture, but has its own unique distinctions. And it is utterly delicious!
For centuries, bread has been considered to be a source of sustenance. As Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, cultural bread often depicts beautiful symbolism. One of which is that for Christians, he is “the bread of life” (John 6:35), in whom believers will find their daily, spiritual sustenance (or bread of life).
The symbolism in Italian Easter Bread is in the 3-strand braided circle. The circle represents the crown of thorns he wore at the crucifixion, and the three strands represent the trinity, or God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Italian Easter Bread Ingredients
Milk — for the best flavor, use a full-fat milk that is lukewarm. It will be used to activate the yeast. Be careful not to overheat the milk as it will kill the yeast.
Yeast — we’re using active dry yeast. Be sure to check the expiry date and avoid using any that has expired. The bread won’t rise with expired yeast.
Eggs — are the centerpiece of this beautiful bread. You will need a couple for the bread itself and then 4 more dyed Easter eggs to decorate the top. You can dye raw eggs or hard boiled eggs, whichever you prefer. The eggs will cook as they bake into the bread.
Flavorings — citrus flavors are traditional in Easter breads. We’re using orange juice and zest but you could also use lemon if preferred, or eliminate these altogether. Vanilla is added to intensify the flavor of the bread.
Butter — it’s important to use room temperature butter so it can easily incorporate into the bread dough.
How to Make Italian Easter Bread
Step-by-step instructions are in the recipe card below. But here’s a quick overview:
Begin by proofing the yeast. Combine warm milk, sugar and yeast in a small bowl, letting it rest until foamy.
While the yeast is proofing, add the flour, remaining sugar, and salt to a bowl. In a separate bowl combine eggs, orange juice, zest, and vanilla; whisk together.
Add liquids (both egg mixture and the yeast mixture) to the flour and stir to combine. Then add as much of the remaining flour as necessary until the dough comes together. Then add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated.
Knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. Add to oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until double.
Shaping the Dough
Deflate the dough and divide into 3 equal pieces. Gently roll each section into a 24-inch rope. Pinch the ends together and braid loosely. Shape into a ring and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Tuck dyed eggs into the braid, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes.
Baking the Bread
Once risen, brush with egg wash and bake for 25 minutes, or until golden. Let cool before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
Storing Italian Easter Bread
Remove the eggs and store leftover Easter bread in an air an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Otherwise, it should be refrigerated if the eggs are left in the bread.
It can also be frozen, without the eggs, in a freezer safe bag for up to 2 months.
Easter Egg Dye
I neglected to get Easter egg dye before making this bread. If you want to make your own, here’s the formula I use:
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
- several drops of food coloring
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Italian Easter Bread
- 1 cup lukewarm milk (about 100°F)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus 1 teaspoon), divided
- 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting and kneading
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1/3 cup butter at room temperature
- 4 dyed eggs raw or hard boiled
- 1 large egg, for egg wash
- In a small bowl, stir together warm milk with 1 teaspoon sugar. Add the yeast and set aside until it's foamy, about 5 to 8 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl) add 3 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt.
- In a separate bowl (I like to use a glass measure) add the eggs and beat with a fork. Then stir in the orange juice, orange zest, and vanilla extract.
- To the flour mixture, add the proofed yeast and the egg mixture. Stir to combine. Then add as much of the remaining flour as necessary for the dough to come together (1 to 1 1/2 cups more). This can be done in the stand mixer with the dough hook (about 5 minutes)
- Increase the speed to medium and gradually add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time; mix until completely combined before adding the next tablespoon.
- Begin kneading the dough on medium until the dough is smooth and elastic; about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the an oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled; about 1½ to 2 hours.
Shaping the Dough
- Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Deflate the dough and divide into 3 equal pieces. Gently roll each section into a 24-inch rope.
- Pinch the ends of the 3 ropes together and braid the ropes together loosely. Shape into a ring and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Tuck dyed eggs into the braid, on top and near the center. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes. Depending on the temperature of the room, this rise could take an hour.
Baking the Bread
- While the braid is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Once risen, brush with egg wash (1 egg plus 1 teaspoon water beaten together). Try to avoid brushing the dyed egg as this help avoid color bleeding into the bread.
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until the ring is golden. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Rising Time:This is a rich dough, which means rise time may vary depending on the temperature of the kitchen and the dough.
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.