Pane di Pasqua: A Symbolic Italian Easter Bread

Pane di Pasqua: A Symbolic Italian Easter Bread

Gail Vilardo Frommeyer, Cuisine Editor

Easter brings with it the season of Italian Easter Bread. The tradition in all of the 20 regions of Italy is to serve this Pane de Pascua ending the fast of Lent. This bread has incredible significance at Easter celebrations. “Just as bread for centuries has been the prime source of bodily sustenance for daily life, Christ, whose resurrection Christians celebrate on Easter is considered ‘he bread of life’ John 6:35, in whome believers will find their daily spiritual sustenance.”

Yield: 1 (12 inch diameter) braided ring loaf

Prep Time: 2 hrs 50 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 3 hrs 15 mins

Ingredients

For the Bread

  • ½ c milk, warmed to 100F
  • ¼ c sugar
  • 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
  • 4 – 5 c unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced (roughly ½ c juice)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ c unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ tsp ground anise or pure anise extract

For the Braid

  • 6 raw eggs, dyed if desired
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp water

Instructions:

Making The Dough

  1. In a small bowl, mix the warm milk with the sugar, until dissolved. Add the yeast and set the mixture aside until it begins to foam slightly, 5-10 min.
  2. While the yeast is hydrating, in a large bowl, mix together 3 c all-purpose flour and the salt. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the orange juice and zest, the beaten eggs, melted butter, and anise. Set aside.
  4. Add the yeast mixture and orange juice mixture to the flour, stirring until moistened. Add the remaining flour to the dough, a little at a time, mixing until the dough comes together.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, until soft and smooth.
  6. Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and set in a warm (70-75F), draft-free place to rise for 1 hour.

Shaping the Ring

  1. Once the dough has doubled turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
  2. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and gently roll each into an 24” rope. (If the dough springs back on you, cover the ropes with a damp towel and let rest for 5-10 minutes to relax the gluten. Then try rolling them out again.)
  3. Pinch one end of all three ropes together and braid the strands loosely. Shape the braid into a ring on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. Gently tuck the dyed, raw eggs into the braid. (Be sure to place them on top, or slightly closer to the center of the ring, as opposed to near the outer edge, as the eggs tend to roll to the outer edge of the ring during the final rising time.)
  5. Gently brush the ring with the beaten egg and water egg wash, being careful around the dyed eggs (the moisture from the egg wash tends to make the dye run).
  6. Let the ring rise until puffy and nearly doubled, 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Baking The Bread

  1. Near the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Bake the bread for 25 minutes, until the ring is golden and sounds hollow when tapped gently.
  3. Let the bread cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
After one rise, this fragrant dough gets divided into three pieced and rolled into ropes that will be braided. If you find that the dough springs back on itself as you try to roll it into your 24 inch stand, stop rolling and let the strand rest for 5 minutes (covered with damp tea towel). This will relax the gluten proteins and make it much easier to continue rolling your strand.
After you shape your bread into a circle and pinch your ends together, it’s time to tuck the effs into the braided dough.
This part can get a little tricky. Just gently separate the strands of the braids and tuck the egg in.
The most important thing here is to keep the eggs on top of the braid or even a little toward the center of the circle. If you place them too close to the outer edge of the circle, they tend to roll further outwards as the bread rises.
No matter how the dough chooses to rise around your eggs, the result will be a very impressive loaf.
The beautifully colored eggs and the lovely golden loaf are the perfect recipe for an Easter table centerpiece.
Buona Pasqua 2020!