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Italian Easter Bread (Pane di Pasqua)

Traditional Italian Easter Bread or as we call it, Pane di Pasqua, is a soft, fluffy sweet bread nestled around a colorful egg.  It’s a yeast bread that is often braided and flavored with citrus, vanilla, or anise.

Bread wreath with a colored egg in the center.

When Nonna would make this traditional Italian bread it was a sure sign of Spring. In the US we have the Easter bunny, in Italy, we celebrate Easter with Pane di Pasqua.  

Every year Nonna used to make one of these festive breads for each of her grandchildren. I love that now I get to carry on that family tradition with my own granddaughter.  And I am pleased to say that Olivia loved the Easter Bread I made for her! 

This is a familiar and much-loved tradition, especially in southern Italy.  Each region of the country has its favorite version.  In Sicily, they make cuddura cu l’ova, which is sometimes made with bread dough and sometimes made with cookie dough that encases the colored eggs.  In Calabria, they make cuzzupe which is a cross between bread and cake, also decorated with Easter eggs, but then topped with a sweet glaze.   

This is a basic sweet Italian Easter bread recipe.  The texture of this bread is, soft and fluffy, similar to challah bread. Since my Nonna made her bread with anise, I like to make mine the same way. 

It is much easier to make than it looks and the ingredients are simple pantry staples.  Although the bread takes a while to make, most of the time is hands-off, just waiting for it to rise. Let me show you how easy this is.

Labeled ingredients for making Italian Easter bread.

Ingredients

  • Milk: I use whole milk, but you can also use 1% or 2% milk.  
  • Unsalted Butter: It does not matter if it is cold or room temperature since it is going to be melted with the milk.
  • Active Dry Yeast:  It is important to make sure that your yeast has not expired after all this is what is going to make this beautiful dough rise. 
  • Salt
  • Large Eggs:  This recipe uses a lot of whole eggs.  You will need 2 beaten eggs for the bread, 1 egg for the egg wash, and 6 dyed eggs for the center of the braided bread.  It is perfectly fine for these to be raw eggs because they will be cooked in the oven with the bread. 
  • Sugar:  Just enough to give the bread a little bit of sweetness.
  • Flour:  I have only made this recipe with all-purpose flour and it comes out perfectly.  
  • Anise Extract: A tiny bit goes a long way.
  • Colorful Sprinkles: This is optional but you will love how festive the bread looks with the colorful sprinkles.

How to Make the Best Easter Bread

4 photos of the process for making bread dough.

Make the Dough

1. Proof the Yeast: In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter until the butter completely melts.  Pour the warm milk mixture into a bowl or measuring cup, add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar and the active dry yeast, and stir to combine.  Let this mixture sit for 5-10 minutes or until a foam forms on top of the mixture.  The milk should be no more than 120 degrees F or it will kill the yeast.  

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the sugar, 2 beaten eggs, salt, anise, yeast mixture, and half of the flour.  Mix on low speed using the dough hook attachment until a batter is formed.  Gradually add in the rest of the flour a little at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the flour is blended into the dough.  Continue to knead the dough for 5-10 minutes or until a sticky dough ball starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  

3. Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it several times until it has formed a soft ball of dough that is tacky but not sticky.  Grease a large bowl with olive oil and turn the dough in the bowl, cover it loosely, and place it in a warm place to rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.  

3 photos of shaping dough into wreaths with colored eggs in the center.

​Assemble and Bake the Bread

1. Once the dough rises, punch it down once and pour it out onto a clean surface.  Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces.  Roll a piece of dough into a 12-inch long log and repeat this with another piece.  Pinch the ends of the two pieces of dough together and then twist the two so that you form a long rope.  Bring the ends together so that your bread is now in the shape of a wreath.  Place the sweet bread wreath on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Repeat this with the remaining dough. 

2. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set it in a warm spot to rise, for 30 mins to one hour.

3. Gently brush the dough wreaths with the egg wash, nestle an egg in the center of each one, and decorate them with sprinkles.

4. Bake the sweet bread in a preheated 350-degree F oven for 15-20 minutes.  The bread should be golden brown.  Let it cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring it to a wire rack to finish cooling. 

A bread wreath with a blue egg in the center with a piece broken  off.

Baking Tips

  • The milk and butter mixture should be warm, not hot.  If you aren’t, sure use a thermometer to test the temperature of the liquid.  Anywhere between 100-115 degrees F is perfect for proofing the yeast.
  • You do not need to hard boil the eggs before dying them.  The eggs will be cooked in the oven with the bread.
  • This is a soft sticky dough, but once you scrape it out of the bowl and start to knead it with a little bit of flour it will quickly form a soft tacky dough ball that is easy to handle.
  • Be patient and let the dough take the time it needs to rise. It is definitely worth the wait!

Variations

As I mentioned earlier there are various recipes for Italian Easter bread and this recipe is a great base that can be flavored differently to suit your taste.

If you love anise, you may want to add some anise seeds to the dough.  It gives the dough a beautiful flavor and it looks pretty too!

If you don’t like the licorice flavor of anise, try a citrus flavor by adding lemon zest or orange zest to the dough.  These are both very popular in Italian families.

You don’t have to bake the bread with the colored eggs in the center.  The bread is also beautiful on its own.  

4 bread wreathes with colored eggs in the middle of them next to a bowl of colored sprinkles.

How to Store Italian Easter Bread

This fluffy bread is so fragrant that I have to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.  It is really delicious eaten soon after it is baked.  But the bread can be stored in an airtight container for serval days.  Since the bread has hard-boiled eggs in the center, you should store the it in the refrigerator or remove the eggs so they can be refrigerated and the bread can be left at room temperature.

The sweet bread can also be frozen for up to two months once the eggs have been removed. 

FAQ

What is the significance of Italian Easter Bread?

Bread itself has a lot of religious significance in many cultures because it represents life and at Easter, it is a reminder of Jesus’ life and how he sustains us.  The wreath shape of this bread is meant to remind us of the wreath of thorns that Jesus wore before his death and the egg in the center symbolizes rebirth or new life.   

Can I use Instant yeast in this sweet Easter bread recipe?

Yes, you can, just add the yeast at the same time that you add the sugar, eggs warm milk, and butter to the batter.  There is no need to proof it.  As with the active dry yeast, be sure that your milk and butter are not too hot or it will kill the yeast. 

Other Traditional Italian Recipes

​Every holiday comes with its traditional recipes and Easter is no exception to that rule.  Pane di Cena are Sicilian Easter Cookies that my grandmother and my mother made every year.  And to this day we can’t wait until they are served with a nice dark espresso to finish off our meal.

In many Italian households, it wouldn’t be Easter without Italian Easter Pizza or Pizza Giana.  A flaky pastry crust is filled with delicious cheeses and assorted salumi to celebrate the end of lent.  Another favorite in our family are Nonna’s Stuffed Artichokes.  Artichokes are in season again and this cheesy savory vegetable will have you licking your fingers!

I love to get your feedback so if you tried this Italian Easter Bread recipe or any other recipes on this website, please leave me a comment below.  I hope you enjoy our recipes and look forward to hearing from you!

You can also follow me on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest for more recipes your family will love!

Buona Pasqua Amici!

Italian Easter Bread Recipe

Bread wreath with a colored egg in the center.

Italian Easter Bread (Pane di Pasqua)

A fluffy sweet bread traditionally made in celebration of Easter. Eggs, milk, sugar and butter make this yeast bread soft and delicious.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Rest dough 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 50 minutes
Course Bread, side dish, snack
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 loaves
Calories 661 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup Milk
  • ½ cup Unsalted Butter
  • tsp Active Dry Yeast
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs beaten
  • ½ cup Sugar
  • cups Flour
  • ½ tsp Anise Extract
  • Colorful Sprinkles optional
  • 1 Egg beaten
  • 1 tsp water
  • 6 Eggs dyed

Instructions
 

  • In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter until the butter completely melts.  Pour the warm milk mixture into a bowl or measuring cup, add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar and the active dry yeast, and stir to combine.  Let this mixture sit for 5-10 minutes or until a foam forms on top of the mixture.  The milk should about 110-115℉.
  •  In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the sugar, 2 beaten eggs, salt, anise, yeast mixture, and half of the flour.  Mix on low speed using the dough hook attachment until a batter is formed.  Gradually add in the rest of the flour a little at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all of the flour is blended into the dough.  Continue to knead the dough for 5-10 minutes or until a sticky dough ball starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  
  • Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it several times until it has formed a soft ball of dough that is tacky but not sticky.  Grease a large bowl with olive oil and turn the dough in the bowl, cover it loosely, and place it in a warm place to rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.  
  • Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
    Once the dough rises, punch it down and pour it out onto a clean surface.  Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces.  Roll a piece of dough into a 12-inch long log and repeat this with another piece.  Pinch the ends of the two pieces of dough together and then twist the two so that you form a long rope.  Bring the ends together so that your bread is now in the shape of a wreath.  Place the sweet bread wreath on a baking sheet.  Repeat this with the remaining dough.  Put 3 wreaths on each baking sheet to give them room to spread out.
  • Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set it in a warm spot to rise, for 30 mins to one hour or until the dough doubles in size.
  • Preheat the oven to 350℉.
    Gently brush the dough wreaths with the egg wash, nestle a colored egg in the center of each one, and decorate them with sprinkles.
  • Bake the sweet bread for 15-20 minutes.  The bread should be golden brown.  Let it cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring it to a wire rack to finish cooling. 

Notes

Baking Tips

  • The milk and butter mixture should be warm, not hot.  If you aren’t, sure use a thermometer to test the temperature of the liquid.  Anywhere between 100-115 degrees F is perfect for proofing the yeast.
  • You do not need to hard boil the eggs before dying them.  The eggs will be cooked in the oven with the bread.
  • This is a soft sticky dough, but once you scrape it out of the bowl and start to knead it with a little bit of flour it will quickly form a soft tacky dough ball that is easy to handle.
  • Be patient and let the dough take the time it needs to rise. It is definitely worth the wait!
 
Scroll up to see variations and storage recommendations.

Nutrition

Serving: 1loafCalories: 661kcalCarbohydrates: 91gProtein: 20gFat: 24gSaturated Fat: 13gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 291mgSodium: 307mgPotassium: 260mgFiber: 3gSugar: 19gVitamin A: 895IUVitamin C: 0.002mgCalcium: 106mgIron: 6mg
Keyword sweeet bread, soft, similar to challah, hardboiled egg, food coloring
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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4 Comments

    1. Sara
      You are so very welcome. I love sharing family recipes both old and new and I hope you enjoy them.

  1. 5 stars
    This bread is the identical texture of traditional Greek Easter bread. It’s wonderful and is such a nice tradition for the holiday.

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