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This pretty Italian Easter Bread (or Pane di Pasqua) has been on my culinary bucket list for years! And I have to thank my husband Jack for helping me perfect this recipe so we could share it here with all of you today!
But really – this Italian Easter Bread is so pretty and delicious, we might be adding this to our Easter menu from now on! The bread itself is fluffy and light – somewhat similar to a brioche – with a hint of slightly sweet orange, lemon and anise flavors.
Nestled inside the braided dough is a colored Easter egg that cooks while the bread bakes. Once the bread is baked and cooled slightly, a sweet sugar glaze flavored with additional anise extract is brushed on top and coarse pearl sugar is sprinkled on top for additional sweetness and decoration.
This Italian Easter Bread is a classic recipe to make for the Easter holiday, and it is delicious served at breakfast or with your Easter dinner! The eggs symbolize rebirth – both in the Christian religious sense with the Easter holiday, but also to mark the Spring season.
There are many variations of this Italian Easter Bread – some made in a single braided loaf, some with or without the egg in the middle, and others using colored sprinkles instead of the pearl sugar used in our recipe. Every Italian family seems to have their own special recipe for the holiday!
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
- 2 whole eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Zest of one large navel orange
- Zest of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon anise extract
- 1/2 cup butter softened, 1 stick
- 4 – 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Olive oil to oil bowl
- 6 teaspoons white vinegar
- Liquid food coloring, your choice of colors
- 3 cups boiling water
- 6 raw eggs left in shell
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon anise extract
- Sugar Pearls (available on line here)
- One beaten egg
- 1 teaspoon water
- Heat milk on stove or in microwave until it is exactly 110 degrees F.
- Mix in yeast and let bloom for 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and add sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is pale in color.
- Add salt, zests, extracts and butter and mix.
- Slowly add two cups of flour with mixer running on low.
- Replace paddle with dough hook and continue adding the remaining 2 cups of flour alternating the milk and yeast mixture to produce a soft slightly tacky dough, adding the last half cup of flour only if needed. Turn the mixer to medium and knead for five minutes. The dough will be very soft and tender.
- Pour into a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic and a dish towel and let rise in a warm place for about two hours or until doubled in size.
- While dough is proofing, color eggs.
- In six tea cups or coffee mugs, place one teaspoon of white vinegar each and 15 drops of food coloring each, using six different colors. Pour in ½ cup of boiling water per cup, stir and add one raw egg in shell to each cup. Let sit five minutes then remove and dry, then place back in refrigerator until later. Discard colored water.
- Make glaze by combining water, sugar and anise extract. Bring to a boil to dissolve sugar and remove from heat. Cool and refrigerate until later. Save this simple syrup and the pearls for after bread is baked.
- After the dough has doubled in size, pour out onto a floured counter and divide into 12 pieces by cutting in half, cutting each half in half then cutting each quarter into thirds.
- Roll each piece out into logs, 14 inches long.
- Take two logs and twist them together pinching both ends then pinching the two ends to each other to form a twisted circle. Repeat for the remaining five.
- Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and place three per pan evenly spaced leaving room to proof.
- Cover with plastic and a dish towel and proof in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 – 1 ½ hours.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Beat the egg and water to make an egg wash and brush each loaf, being careful to not let it drip down to the pan.
- Press one colored raw egg into the center of each loaf, gently pressing down so it fits snug.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.
- Place on cooling racks over a sheet pan and while still warm, brush all over with the simple syrup, letting it drip down to the pan under the rack and sprinkle the tops with the sugar pearls.
- Cool and refrigerate until ready to serve. (Because of the egg, these must be refrigerated.)
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