Italian Easter bread, or “pane dolce” (sweet bread) as it’s known in Italy, originates from the Calabria region of Southern Italy. Italian families typically bake this special bread during the spring season in celebration of Easter. Notice the eggs cradled in the braid of the bread: these are a symbol of new life and spring awakening, or as one Italian once said, “They look like a baby nestled warm and covered safely in a blanket.”
The recipe below is a Michael-Angelo’s family tradition passed down from generation to generation. Serve it in generous slices after Easter dinner or for a weekend breakfast alongside a cup of tea, coffee or the Italian favourite…espresso. Our family tradition is about to be yours!
Italian Easter Bread
Recipe makes 6 loaves
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 envelopes Fleischmann’s Traditional Active Dry Yeast
1 can of Carnation Evaporated Milk (370 ml)
2 heaping cups granulated sugar
10 large eggs + 1 egg for egg wash
the zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 tsp salt
6 cups all purpose flour
Optional: Tuck whole eggs, washed and dried, into the braid of the bread (as many as you want).
Here’s how to make it…
- Dissolve yeast in a bowl following the directions on the yeast package; set aside.
- Heat the butter and milk together in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the butter is melted.
- Beat 10 eggs in a bowl.
- In a separate mixing bowl, put the dry ingredients together (sugar & flour). Add all wet ingredients (butter, milk, eggs, yeast & lemon rind) into the dry ingredients bowl.
- Mix and knead the dough by hand onto a clean surface. Add additional flour if the dough is too sticky to handle.
- Cover the dough and let it rise for approximately 2-3 hours, in a warm area. Once the dough has risen, cut it into 6 equal pieces.
- Roll each piece into a 1-inch by 1 foot long rope. Take 3 pieces of rope and pinch the top of each rope together, so that all pieces are attached. Use 3 ropes to braid the dough. Optional: stick a washed egg (shell and all) in between a part of the braid, wherever you desire. The egg will cook in the oven.
- Once finished, shape the long piece of bread into a wreath and connect both ends together. Repeat this with the remaining 3 ropes.
- Place both wreaths’ onto a separate baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. Cover both wreaths and let the pieces rise for approximately 1 hour. The wreaths will rise nearly double in size.
- While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Beat the remaining egg. Brush the mixture onto each wreath. This will give the bread a golden glow.
- Cook each loaf of bread separately in the oven for approximately 30-45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Once the breads are cooled to room temperature they are ready to be served. If you have leftovers, wrap the wreaths well in a plastic wrap and place into the freezer. Frozen bread will last for approximately 3 months.