Easter is right around the corner. One of the traditions in my family is the making of Italian Easter bread. I don’t know if this is a straight-from-the-old-country recipe or more of an Italian-American invention but Carmella, an Italian friend of my parents, brought us a loaf every year when I was growing up. She would arrive with a freshly baked loaf that was as beautiful as it was tasty – slightly sweet, eggy, braided, and studded with colored Easter eggs. It was one of my favorite Easter treats, far outshining any chocolate bunny. How I missed this bread when I moved away from home. Luckily, Carmella shared her recipe and I began making it myself many years ago. Today, it’s still one of my favorites, as well as a favorite of my children and grandchildren.
There are many variations of this bread, some flavored with anise, some with citrus, some glazed and topped with sugars or fruit, but Carmella’s recipe remains my favorite. Her original recipe made four big loaves. I've cut it in half to make two nice size loaves.
The bread is braided and can be left straight or twisted into a ring. Brightly colored eggs are traditionally tucked into the braids; when I want something a little more special I use a natural onion skin dye and create a leaf design on the eggs. Since I will be spending Easter in Italy this year, away from my family, I decided to make an early batch of Easter bread for a Sunday brunch before I headed off to Italy. Doesn't it make a pretty centerpiece for my table?
Below is the recipe for the bread and the instructions for the onion skin dyed eggs. If you enjoy this recipe, please say grazie mille (thanks a lot) to Carmella! post by JMB
Carmella’s Italian Easter Bread (Pane di Pasqua)
- ½ cup whole milk, scalded
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup warm water
- 2 packages dry yeast
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 6 cups sifted flour, divided
- 4-6 dyed eggs
- Add sugar, salt, and butter to scalded mix; mix to dissolve sugar and melt butter. Cool to room temperature.
- Put the water into a large, warmed bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and mix to dissolve.
- Add cooled milk mixture to water and yeast.
- Add the beaten eggs, mixing to combine well.
- Add 2 cups of flour; beat until smooth. Add remaining flour or enough to make a soft dough.
- Turn dough onto floured board and knead until smooth and elastic; add more flour if dough is too sticky.
- Put dough in an oiled bowl, turn over so that both sides are lightly oiled. Cover with a towel; let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 1½ hours (until doubled in size).
- Turn onto board and knead again until smooth and elastic.
- Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Shape each into a 1-inch thick rope (should be about 13 inches long).
- Working on a greased baking sheet, braid 2 strands, making 2 or 3 twists and pinching ends to seal.
- Tuck a dyed egg into each twist of the braid. Repeat with remaining strands to make a second loaf. Use a separate baking sheet for each loaf or a sheet large enough for both loaves to rise during baking without touching.
- Brush shaped loaves with melted butter.
- Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 1 hour (until doubled in size).
- Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, turning pan once in the middle. Tops should be golden brown when done.
- Cool on wire rack. May make one day ahead of serving, wrap well in plastic wrap once completely cooled.
Natural Onion Skin Dyed Eggs
- Fill a medium size pot with the dried outer skins of yellow onions (these can be scavenged from the onion bin at the grocery store; may combine 2/3 yellow with 1/3 red skins if you like). The amount isn’t critical - the more skins used, the darker the color. I generally fill one of the plastic bags meant for vegetables, loosely packed to color a dozen or so eggs.
- Cover onion skins with water. Add 1-2 tablespoons of white vinegar.
- Add eggs to the cold water / onion skin mix. Bring to boil and simmer 15- 20 minutes.
- For even fancier eggs (pictured): take a piece of stocking, lay a leaf from a carrot top on the stocking and then place a raw egg on top. Pull the stocking tightly around the egg, making sure the carrot leaf is spread out nicely. Tie the stocking with kitchen string.
- Put the wrapped eggs into the cold water, onion skin mix, bring to a boil, simmer 15 – 20 minutes until desired color is achieved.
- Set aside until cool.