Traditional sweet Italian Easter bread is braided and baked with a hint of lemon and anise. It’s made with Easter eggs baked in the middle, then glazed and decorated with sprinkles.
Italian Easter bread is a holiday tradition that’s been made every year in my family for as long as I can remember.
My mom would have the kitchen smelling of fresh baked sweet bread the day or two before Easter and she’d let my sister and I help her glaze and decorate them with sprinkles.
We’d color our Easter eggs a couple days before and she’d use those in the middle of each braided loaf.
This traditional sweet Italian Easter bread is a version of the easy recipe my mother would use every Easter holiday.
I used my mom’s good old recipe (you can see how old it is!) and I also used Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe for some adjustments (original recipe here).
The history of Italian Easter Bread:
Easter bread originates back to the Orthodox Christian Church.
It symbolizes the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ and the 3 braids together represent the Holy Trinity.
The eggs symbolize birth and life.
What is Italian Easter Bread Called?
Pane di Pasqua means “Italian Easter Bread”
Traditional sweet Italian Easter bread is flavored with either orange or lemon zest and anise extract. It’s light and fluffy, yet golden and buttery, similar to a brioche dough.
I can remember waking up Easter morning, running in the living room to see what the Easter bunny brought me, and ripping off a piece of the delicious sweet and buttery bread to eat for breakfast.
First, the dough rises until almost doubled in size. Then, it’s divided into 6 equal pieces. Each of those 6 pieces are divided again into 3 equal pieces and the 3 pieces are rolled into a rope shape and braided together.
The two ends of the braids are pinched together to form a “wreath” shape. Then a dyed egg is placed in the middle. The individual loaves then rise for a second time before baked.
Once the loaves are baked until golden, they’re cooled completely then brushed with a powdered sugar/milk glaze. You can decorate the loaves with colorful sprinkles if you’d like.
I still keep the tradition alive by making these sweet Italian bread loaves every Easter holiday.
They make perfect homemade gifts to give to your Easter dinner host/hostess! Plus, it’s fun to have the kids help with the sprinkles and of course coloring the eggs.
Traditional Sweet Italian Easter Bread
For the Easter Bread:
- ¾ cup Whole Milk
- ¼ cup Granulated Sugar
- 2 ¼ tsp 1 packet Active Dry Yeast
- 5 cups All Purpose Flour
- 1/2 tsp Salt if using salted butter, use 1/4 tsp
- 4 Eggs
- 1 tsp Anise Extract
- Zest of 1 Lemon
- 1 Stick of Butter melted
- 6 Eggs dyed (see recipe notes)
- 1 egg whisked (for brushing)
For the Glaze:
- 1 Cups Powdered sugar
- 1-2 tbsp Milk
- ½ tsp Vanilla
- Sprinkles for decorating
To make the dough:
- Heat milk in small saucepan, stirring occasionally until warm. (It should warm to the touch, not hot or boiling!). If you have a thermometer it should read between 110 and 115 degrees.
- Remove from heat and whisk in sugar until dissolved. Stir in the yeast and let rest for 10 minutes. (The yeast should be slightly foamy on top).
- In a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, mix together the flour and salt.
- In small bowl whisk together eggs, anise and lemon zest, set aside.
- Add the yeast/milk mixture to the flour and mix on low speed. The dough will look shaggy.
- Add in the melted butter and continuing mixing. Then add in your egg mixture.
- Increase your mixer to medium low and keep mixing the dough until a ball starts to form and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You may need to gradually add more flour until it comes together. It should be slightly sticky. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Remove dough and place onto a floured surface. Knead 4-5 times until smooth. Place in an oiled bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Keep in a warm place to rise until doubled in sized, about 1 hour (see recipe notes).
- Now is a perfect time to dye your eggs if you haven’t done so already!
To shape the bread:
- Lightly punch dough down to release air. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Divide each of the 6 pieces into 3 pieces for a total of 18 pieces (3 pieces of dough per loaf=6 loaves).
- Working with 3 pieces at a time: roll each piece into a rope about 9” long. Pinch one end together and braid or twist. Pinch the other end and join the two ends together to create the wreath shape. The hole in the middle should snugly fit 1 egg. (about 2” wide).
- Repeat this process for the remaining 5 loaves.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and place 3 loaves per sheet. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place in warm place again to rise, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once loaves have risen, brush gently with egg wash and bake for 20-25 minutes until loaves are golden. Remove and place on cooling rack until completely cooled.
For the Glaze
- Mix together sugar, milk and vanilla. The glaze should be slightly thick; add more powdered sugar or milk to adjust the consistency as needed.
- Once loaves are completely cool, brush glaze onto the loaves (I use a pastry brush to spread it out evenly). Sprinkle with decorations if desired.