Bread has incredible significance in many cultures on Easter tables; on the Italian Easter table, bread has a religious significance — Christ is often referred to as “the bread of life.”
This Italian Easter Bread is braided with eggs for not only a festive look, but also signifies signs from nature of new life, just as Christians celebrate new life in the risen Christ. It is baked in the shape of a wreath to symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ at the crucifixion. The three pieces of dough braided together represent the three elements of the Holy Trinity. During Lent, many households abstain from rich foods and sweets.
The end of Lent brings about a time to celebrate and indulge which often includes Easter breads which are sweet, egg-enriched, and often contain dried fruit which at one time was a luxury item.
This particular bread is traditionally made for Italian and Greek Easter celebrations though many Eastern European countries also claim it as their own. It is no wonder that this bread often makes an appearance on Easter tables in the Anthracite Coal Region where those cultures are extremely well represented.
There are many family recipes for this bread, none are “right” or “wrong” and each is as delicious as the other. This recipe features a slightly sweet dough with tones of citrus and anise. If you desire, you could knead in some candied fruit or raisins to your dough.
You will be using raw eggs which will cook as the bread bakes, so handle them gently when dying them and be sure to use food-safe dyes.
Glaze is optional, the choice is yours. You can also dress up the glazed top with colorful sprinkles or sliced almonds. You can make this recipe as individual “nests” with a single egg in each if you desire.
The Eggs and Braid
The eggs get placed between the “ropes” of bread dough that form the braid, so remember to braid loosely when working with your dough. They are positioned before the last rise and tend to want to roll outward during the rise if placed close to the outside of the braid, so keep the eggs slightly toward the inside of the dough circle when inserting them.
Italian Easter Bread (Pane di Pasqua)Course: BreadsCuisine: Italian, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
This decorative Easter bread has whole eggs baked into it for a symbolic and festive addition to the Easter celebration.
1/2 cup milk, warmed to 100 F degrees
1/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 orange, zested and juiced (you need approximately ½ c juice)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon ground anise or pure anise extract
- Egg Braid Decoration
6 raw eggs, dyed if desired in food-safe coloring
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water for brushing
- Optional Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a small bowl, mix the warm milk with the sugar until dissolved. Add the yeast and set aside until foamy, approximately 5 to 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer, stir together 3 c ups flour and the salt. Set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk together the orange juice and zest, eggs, melted butter, and anise.
- 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. (or knead in mixer).
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and a towel, and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Using both hands, roll each piece into a 24” rope. If dough does not want to stretch to form a long rope, cover it lightly and let it sit for a 10 minutes to relax.
- Lay the three ropes side-by-side, pinch one end of them together and loosely braid the ropes of dough. Gently place and shape the braid into a circle on a parchment lined baking sheet and pinch ends together to close the circle.
- Carefully tuck the raw eggs into the braid placing them on top and toward the inner edge of the braid to prevent them from rolling outward during the next rise.
- Gently brush the dough ring with egg wash; avoid getting too close to the eggs to prevent the dye from running. Let the ring rise until puffy and doubled, approximately 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake tor 25 minutes or until golden and braid sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from oven and allow to cool on pan for 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
- OPTIONAL Glaze: Once the bread is cool, combine confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla and stir until smooth. Add more milk if necessary until smooth but not runny. Drizzle over the Italian Easter bread around the eggs
- The eggs get placed between the “ropes” of bread dough that form the braid, so remember to braid loosely when working with your dough. They are positioned before the last rise and tend to want to roll outward during the rise if placed close to the outside of the braid, so keep the eggs slightly toward the inside of the dough circle when inserting them.