Italian Easter Bread

I like to think that I am usually pretty “with it” when it comes to Italian food traditions, having come from an Italian family with a grandma who lived to cook and bake. She had so many holiday traditions, but when my Chief Culinary Consultant’s dad started talking about his Nana’s Easter bread, with orange and anise, I was befuddled. This traditional Italian bread and I had never crossed paths. It seemed inconceivable that my grandma hadn’t ever made it, but I definitely had never eaten it. There was no question that I needed to get my fill of Italian Easter Bread, immediately. Not 24 hours after we pulled back into Pittsburgh last week, my CCC’s dad touched down for a long weekend to visit with some family. On his agenda for the weekend was making his Nana’s Easter bread recipe. I was excited to finally try some of this bread, and learn more about the recipe. First of all, and most importantly, the bread is fabulous. I may have eaten close to a loaf all on my own. It’s a rich, sweet bread – much like a brioche – and is flavored with orange and anise. He was generous enough to share with me his family’s recipe so that I could make it on my own and share it with all of you. Precisely one day after he left, I covered my kitchen in flour and cranked out some loaves of my own. They turned out amazing, and I’m sure this will become an Easter traditional of my own!

I did some reading up on Italian Easter Bread recipes before tackling this one, and from what I can tell, most all are flavored in some way with citrus (orange or lemon) and anise oil and/or anise seeds. Usually the loaves are braided and have colored Easter eggs nestled into the braids in various spots. I am not big into coloring Easter eggs, so I skipped that part, but went the traditional route with the braided loaves and sweet glaze.

This is a traditional 2-rise bread recipe. First the dough is mixed together, and left to rise until doubled…

Then it is shaped, and left to rise again before it is baked…

After hearing about the Italian Easter Bread, I had asked my mom if, in fact, my grandma had ever made anything like it, and she said she couldn’t remember her making something like that during Easter. Fast forward to my mom seeing and tasting the finished bread that I made. Aha! A light bulb! She said that my grandma did, indeed, make this exact bread, and even remembered that she would set eggs in the dough. However, my grandfather was the only one in the family that really enjoyed the bread, so when he passed away, my grandma stopped making it. I was only 5 years old at the time, so even if I had tried it at some point before then, I likely wouldn’t have remembered. I was bummed that I had never been introduced to it, but thrilled to know that it had been a part of my family’s traditions at some point, and that it was something my grandpap loved.

For a true bit of nostaglia, below is the original handwritten recipe (half in English, half in Italian, as far as I can tell) from my Chief Culinary Consultant’s great-grandmother. I just love seeing things like that!

Stay tuned tomorrow – I will be sharing another Easter bread recipe, this one from my grandma, and it’s a savory version. I think you’re going to loooove it!

In the meantime, buy some oranges – you’re going to want this traditional Italian Easter Bread on your table come Sunday!

One year ago: Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Two years ago: Easter Egg Sugar Cookies
Four years ago: Gooey Chocolate Cakes

Nana Latona's Italian Easter Bread Recipe

Yield: 2 huge loaves or 4 medium-sized loaves

Prep Time: 2½ hours

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Ingredients:

For the Bread Dough:
8 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole milk
½ cup granulated sugar
2 oranges, zested & juiced
4½ teaspoons (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
1 cup margarine, melted
8 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon anise oil

For the Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup whole milk
Sprinkles, if desired

Directions:

1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl; set aside.

2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is warm to the touch, but not hot. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the temperature of the milk should be between 110 and 115 degrees F.

3. While the heat is warming, place the sugar in a small bowl and add the orange zest. With your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until it is completely incorporated and the sugar is moistened.

4. Once the milk reaches the correct temperature, stir in the sugar and zest mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the yeast, stir, and let sit for 10 minutes.

5. Add the milk and yeast mixture to the flour and begin to mix it into a dough (it will be shaggy at this point).

6. Next, add the melted margarine and continue to mix. Now, add the orange juice to the dough and mix to combine.

7. In a small bowl, use a fork to lightly beat together the eggs, salt, and anise oil. Add to the dough and continue mixing.

8. At this point, you may need to add more flour to the dough, depending on how much juice you get out of your oranges. I added quite a bit more to get the dough to come together. Once you have a sticky ball of dough formed, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is soft and elastic. It will remain slightly tacky.

9. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat, and cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Place in a draft-free area and allow to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

10. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and divide in two. Divide each half into two (you will have four pieces of dough). We will work with one pair, and then the other. Roll two pieces of dough into 24-inch long ropes. Loosely twist the ropes together. Transfer the braided rope to one of the prepared baking sheets and bring the ends together to form a ring, twisting and pinching the ends together to seal. Repeat with the remaining two pieces of dough so that you have two circular, braided loaves. Brush the tops of each with melted butter, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until nearly doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

11. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake one at a time (unless you have the oven capacity to correctly bake both at the same time) until golden brown on top, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

12. Once the breads are cooled to room temperature, you can glaze them (if you desire). Whisk together the powdered sugar and the milk, adding more if necessary to reach the desired consistency. Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze onto the top and sides of the bread, and decorate with sprinkles. The bread is best served at room temperature. If you have leftovers, wrap well in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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116 Responses to “Italian Easter Bread”

Comment Pages 1 2
  1. Julie @White Lights on Wednesday on April 4, 2012 at 12:25 am

    The tiny sprinkles on this bread make me happy. How cool to see the recipe in your Nana’s handwritting. :)

    Reply

  2. Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious on April 4, 2012 at 3:03 am

    What a gorgeous Easter bread. I love the addition of the orange zest, and the sprinkles make it absolutely darling.

    Reply

  3. Paula @ Dishing the Divine on April 4, 2012 at 3:12 am

    My husband’s two favorite things on the planet: brioche and sprinkles. I think you just hit jackpot.

    Reply

  4. mireia on April 4, 2012 at 3:49 am

    That looks like a great recipe and it’s so amazing your grandfather used to love it :)

    Reply

  5. Desdemona on April 4, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Aaaaw, thanks for sharing! This looks so yummy and so easterly – must make it for my boyfriend and see if he knows it (he’s Italian). I am really curious how the anise will turn out.

    Reply

  6. Gianna on April 4, 2012 at 4:15 am

    This sounds delicious. I love the way her recipe is written in both italian and english!
    I have a lot of really old recipes completely in italian.

    Reply

  7. Blog is the New Black on April 4, 2012 at 5:08 am

    SO pretty!

    Reply

  8. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on April 4, 2012 at 5:49 am

    What a special recipe! Looks like the best Easter bread recipe I have seen yet…

    Reply

  9. Kiri W. on April 4, 2012 at 6:08 am

    Looks so light and fluffy! I’ve never seen sprinkles on bread, very cute.

    Reply

  10. Kris Pare on April 4, 2012 at 6:15 am

    Oh, I can not wait to try this. My german grandma always put dried fruit in ours which is definitely a taste to acquire. I think I could get little one to try this version–never used anise oil before. Is it a strong taste?

    Reply

    • Michelle on April 4th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      Hi Kris, In some recipes, yes, anise can be strong, but in this particular bread recipe it is much more subtle. The orange is the prominent flavor here, and the anise merely accents it and gives it a little more depth.

      Reply

      • Gina on April 4th, 2012 at 6:56 pm

        Can we substitute extract for the oil? Would there be any modifications?

        Reply

        • Lyle on April 6th, 2012 at 11:43 am

          Gina
          The conversion from Oil to extract is 4 to one so use 2 tsp of extract to substitute for 1/2 tsp of oil.

          Reply

          • Michelle on April 6th, 2012 at 7:57 pm

            Thank you, Lyle! Gina – this was going to be my recommendation.

            Reply

  11. Vera on April 4, 2012 at 6:39 am

    seeing her recipe, brought a tear to my eye…i have a few slips of paper like that from my nana too. in fact, this year the sweet easter bread is on my to-do list too!

    Reply

  12. Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers on April 4, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Gorgeous bread! I think I’ll make this on Friday! I love the sprinkles you put on it!

    Reply

  13. Katrina on April 4, 2012 at 7:30 am

    This is so pretty! Awesome idea!!

    Reply

  14. Laura on April 4, 2012 at 7:31 am

    This sounds so good. Just one question…I have a bag of instant yeast from king Arthur & I never know if I can use the instant yeast in place of others. Should I use the same amount of instant vs active dry?

    Reply

    • Laura on April 4th, 2012 at 7:41 am

      I actually just found the answer to my own question!! It’s equal conversion & there is about 2 1/4 tsp of yeast in one packet. Thanks for th great recipes :)

      Reply

  15. Lori on April 4, 2012 at 7:36 am

    I might just make this. My MIL who is from Italy will be joining us for Easter dinner. I am sure she would love to go home with this bread and enjoy it with her tea. Thanks to your CCC’s dad for sharing and for you for baking it up for the rest of us to enjoy.

    Reply

  16. Paula on April 4, 2012 at 8:17 am

    The photos of your dough rising are beautiful and the cooked bread is awesome! Wonderful job on the braiding!

    Reply

  17. Erin @ Brownie Bites on April 4, 2012 at 8:24 am

    The bread is just lovely, and I love all breads flavored with citrus, but the best part of this whole post is the original handwritten recipe. I absolutely adore things like that!

    Reply

  18. Karla @ The Culinary Enthusiast on April 4, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Growing up, there was a sweet little old Italian lady that lived two doors down. I looked forward to her Easter treat tray each year, complete with a version of this. (I am thinking it was more like a cookie than a slice of bread) I adored the glaze and the sprinkles! I wish my childhood self would’ve known to think to ask her to teach me a thing or two!

    Thanks for sharing this recipe, your memories, and for my own childhood memory trigger!

    Happy Easter!

    Reply

  19. Amber, RD on April 4, 2012 at 8:53 am

    That bread is so beautiful! And it sounds delicious. I absolutely love the hand written recipe. So cool! I have an old cookbook of my grandma’s and I have kept all the little scraps of paper she had written recipes on. But none of hers were bilingual!

    Reply

  20. Judy Garrison on April 4, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I can’t wait to try this for Sunday. I think my Italian husband will love it!

    Reply

  21. Kayle (The Cooking Actress) on April 4, 2012 at 9:24 am

    My future mother-in-law makes delicious Easter Bread! I have a couple loaves in the freezer waiting for this weekend :)

    Reply

  22. annie on April 4, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Thank you for this recipe, Michelle. It looks very similar to one my grandmother used to make when I was a child (many moons ago). It is one I will try, although I’m not perfect yet with yeast recipes.

    Reply

  23. Maria on April 4, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Beautiful!

    Reply

  24. Lauren on April 4, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Looks so gorgeous!!

    Reply

  25. Phoebe on April 4, 2012 at 10:11 am

    What a gorgeous looking bread, sounds delicious flavouring it with orange!

    Reply

  26. Dorothy on April 4, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I have been making Easter Egg Bread for as long as I have been baking. This and Anisette cookies (Yes I am Italian) are the first things that I mastered on my own at age 12 or so. My Easter bread though sometimes comes out a little dry. I compared your recipe to mine and they are very different. My recipe uses anisette and lemon, cream instead of milk….I’m going to try yours this year. I really don’t care to add more colored eggs to the day so I usually leave them off too. Sprinkles were a nice idea to make it pretty!

    Reply

  27. Dorothy on April 4, 2012 at 10:38 am

    PS—-
    In my house, no Easter is complete without “easter pizza” (also known as pizza rustica). I can post the recipe of you like.

    Reply

    • Michelle on April 4th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Hi Dorothy, My grandma also had an Easter “pizza” recipe, which is really a savory bread. I’ll be sharing it tomorrow, but I always welcome new recipes! Feel free to send it my way!

      Reply

  28. Laura Dembowski on April 4, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Looks amazing, and what a great story behind it. Sometimes being in the kitchen is about so much more than just the baking and cooking.

    Reply

  29. Leslie on April 4, 2012 at 11:21 am

    This recipe looks amazing! I am definitely going to make this on Sunday.Thanks!

    Reply

  30. Melanie on April 4, 2012 at 11:39 am

    This bread looks wonderful, I will have to try it :) would this be served with the dinner or dessert? Thanks for sharing!!

    Reply

    • Michelle on April 4th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Hi Melanie, You could serve it either way. I’ve eaten it for breakfast, alongside a meal, as a snack, as dessert. It’s very versatile :)

      Reply

  31. Cornelia Cree on April 4, 2012 at 11:41 am

    This is way too much bread for a person living alone. Can I half this?

    Reply

    • Michelle on April 4th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      I have not done so, but I think you should be able to.

      Reply

  32. Julia on April 4, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Sprinkles, on bread, I’m SOLD!
    But I also really like reading the story behind the bread :)

    Reply

  33. Almira on April 4, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Beautiful bread and I love the note from your nana. I would like to know if I could half this recipe? Thank you!

    Reply

    • Michelle on April 4th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      Hi Almira, I think you should be able to halve this without an issue. Enjoy!

      Reply

  34. joanne on April 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    One of the winners in the CA Raisin Bread contest for 2011 had a recipe very, very similar. Of course she included raisins. It looks almost identical. I’ve got to try it. Everyone loved it.

    Reply

  35. Kris on April 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    This is extremely similar to my Mennonite Grandma’s Paska recipe. It’s quite a simple recipe but it is essential for Easter! The recipe calls for half an orange and half a lemon blended in a food processor. We top ours with an easy milk, icing sugar, almond flavouring icing and then load it with sprinkles. It’s shocking how similar the recipes are! Mind you, Mennonites are from all over Europe, it should be no surprise they collected ideas from many different cultures.

    Reply

  36. Laura on April 4, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Do you think it would be ok if I made this today & froze it until Easter morning? I was thinking I could re-heat it a little after its defrosted & then glaze it. Just wanted another opinion. Happy Easter!!!!

    Reply

    • Michelle on April 4th, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Laura, Yes, you could definitely do that. I would wrap it well in plastic wrap, then in foil. Enjoy!

      Reply

  37. Hester @ Alchemy in the Kitchen on April 4, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    How lovely that you are reintroducing a family tradition and what a lovely recipe you’ve chosen – this bread looks stunning – glad you’ve left out the eggs – this addition always seemed a little strange to me!

    Reply

  38. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes on April 4, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Beautiful bread. Here we call it Rosca de Pascua (Easter Round) and usually has hard boiled eggs sitting on top of it but never aniseed. Do you think anise seeds will work the same way as anise oil? I´m always hesitant to use it, since it´s a very strong flavor.

    Reply

    • Michelle on April 4th, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      Hi Paula, The recipe does say that you can add anise seed if you wish. If you are leery of a strong flavor, I would probably use one or the other, not both.

      Reply

  39. Nikki @Pennies on a Platter on April 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    It’s beautiful, Michelle! How nice to have a legit handwritten recipe! :)

    Reply

  40. Rose on April 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    The copy of the handwritten recipe brought tears to my eyes. It looks exactly like my Mom’s handwriting. I understood each of the ingredients and directions as written. We are adding this to our Easter celebration.
    Buona Pasqua!

    Reply

  41. PJ on April 5, 2012 at 2:52 am

    I made this tonight and omitted the anise oil because I couldn’t find it at my local store. I halved the recipe and made 2 medium size loafs. My dough didn’t rise too much, but they turned about amazing! Thanks for the recipe! Happy Easter!

    Reply

  42. ruwani on April 5, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Wow! This bread looks so delicious. Happy Easter!

    Reply

  43. Keeley @ My Life on a Plate on April 5, 2012 at 11:07 am

    This looks like a nice alternative to my original favorite Easter bread: hot cross buns. I’d love to try this, but I’d have to halve it… I’m lazy and I need it to fit in my Kitchen Aid mixer.

    Reply

  44. Carissa on April 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    We always have this on Easter! Right along with homemade ravioli & Italian wedding soup. I love Italian holiday meals.

    Reply

  45. Erin on April 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Very pretty! I’d love to try this with the dyed eggs stuffed inside.

    Reply

  46. Maureen on April 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I’m definitely going to make this bread. Since I live in California, I like recipes where I can use oranges from my trees. I grew up living in my Italian immigrant grandparents’ home in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. My grandma made an Easter recipe using the colored eggs, but my mom and I remember it tasting like a cookie dough and not a bread. Has anyone heard of that? She shaped the dough like an Easter basket and put a colored egg in it.

    Reply

  47. Tracy on April 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Gorgeous bread, Michelle! I love recipes with tradition behind them. Hope you have a wonderful Easter!!

    Reply

  48. Alison on April 6, 2012 at 8:44 am

    I made this yesterday and we had it for breakfast this morning. It looks gorgeous and tastes completely delicious. Unless you’re feeding an Italian family on Easter morning or bringing a whole loaf to church though, I’d definitely halve the recipe. It makes a LOT of bread. Also, I had to go to my local cake and candy supply shop to get the anise oil since the grocery store didn’t have it. Even my husband, who didn’t grow up eating my nonnie’s anise biscotti, agreed that it’s a subtle flavor so the amount of anise oil is probably good for most people. I’m thinking about maybe making french toast with it Easter morning, but I’m a bit stumped as to the kind of syrup to serve. Orange seems like overkill…

    Reply

  49. Lauren on April 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    so easy and wonderful! My dough didn’t rise at first though- I ended up adding another packet (I halved the recipe also). I made two braided loaves instead of the ring and they came out wonderful! Thank you!

    Reply

  50. corrie on April 7, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I am in the middle of making your bread and it says to add orange juice in the instructions, but there is no Orange juice listed in the ingredients! Help!

    Reply

    • Melanie on April 7th, 2012 at 7:24 pm

      The orange juice comes from the oranges you used the zest from :)
      (2 oranges, zested & juiced)

      Reply

    • Mike on April 7th, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      2 oranges, zested & juiced

      Reply

    • Michelle on April 9th, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Corrie, The oranges in the recipe are to be zested and juiced; that is the orange juice you use.

      Reply

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