Easter bread is a staple in many Italian American homes. Like brioche and challah yet unique. This version, from Philadelphia-area Italian grandmothers, is super light and airy. Often adorned with colored eggs, and colorful sprinkles, it is a delicious treat at Easter. Slice leftovers and make terrific french toast!
An Italian American Easter Favorite
I love this bread! My mother has been making this Italian easter bread for years and years – since I was a little girl. I always looked forward to it around Easter. To this day, it’s still a special tradition during the Easter season along with other specialities such as Easter pie and Italian rice pie.
Much like other traditional Italian recipes, every family has their own recipe for Easter bread. But, overall, it is similar: a yellowish, sweet bread that is similar to brioche or challah, but sweeter.
One recipe in particular seemed special to me, and that was a recipe from my cousin’s boyfriend’s family in South Philly. When I was younger, my cousin was dating a guy whose mom made the BEST easter bread ever because it was light as a feather. We were absolutely dying to have the recipe but you know these things aren’t always possible, especially in some Italian families where family recipes might not always be shared. Yup, it’s true.
Imagine our surprise when she shared this one! It’s really not terribly unique when it comes to ingredients but I will say that the techniques shared here are what will get you the best Easter bread of your dreams, a light, airy, and tender crumb.
The secret to great Italian Easter Bread
So, you wanna know the secrets to this bread? First of all, make sure it’s really Easter bread. Italian easter bread is high-ish in sugar and fat. Sorry, but that’s what makes it good!
Okay here we go: (1). Double kneading or a double rise. After mixing, you will let the dough bulk rise for 1 to 2 hours (it’s a heavy dough, loaded with oil and sugar, so it takes some time for this dough to rise), then you punch it down and let it bulk rise again for 1 to 2 hours. After the second bulk rise, punch it down again, form your final loaf shape, and then let the loaves rise (in the fridge overnight if time is short). (2). Be very careful about not adding too much flour. You want to create the lightest dough possible but it shouldn’t be sticky. (3). Don’t overbake it! Overbaking it will dry it out. This should be baked at a lowish temperature.
I think this bread is so worth the effort. Leftovers make a great base for French toast!
Decorating with Colored Eggs
You don’t have to precook the eggs that are used for decoration.
Simply use an uncooked egg that has been dyed and place it in the center of the formed loaf.
To avoid the bleeding that I experienced, make sure your dyed egg is completely dry and ensure that the egg wash that you brush your loaf with is completely dry too.
You may also bake with a wooden egg if you can find them and then replace the wooden egg with a hardboiled colored egg after baking.
And of course, no bread post would be complete without the crumb shot. See above ↑↑↑↑
Italian Easter Bread
- 6 eggs
- 2.5 cups granulated sugar divided
- 1.5 cups warm water
- 1.5 cups warm milk
- 2 lemons zested
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ cups oil divided (vegetable or canola)
- 4.5 teaspoons of instant yeast (2 envelopes)
- 10 cups all purpose flour up to 12 cups
- egg wash (1 beaten egg with 1 tablespoon of water added)
For decorating (optional)
- 4 medium eggs colored (not cooked)
- powdered sugar icing 2 cups powdered sugar plus 2 to 3 tablespoons milk or water; add liquid one tablespoon at a time and whisk)
- colored non-pareils
- Note that this makes 4 loaves of bread, so you may want to make half of the recipe to start.
- In a small bowl, add the yeast to warm (but not hot or the yeast may die) milk and water, stir, and set aside
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and ½ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy (several minutes)
- Add the lemon zest, extract, and ½ cup of the oil to the egg-sugar mixture and beat until combined.
- Add the milk, water and yeast mixture to the batter and mix until combined.
- Begin adding the flour slowly. Add only enough flour to make a very soft dough. Beat very well to allow the flour to be absorbed and avoid adding too much flour. You should aim for a dough that is soft like your earlobe.
- After all the flour has been added, let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- Add the remaining sugar and oil, divided in parts by adding 1 cup sugar, followed by ½ cup oil, followed by 1 cup sugar, and then ¼ cup oil. Wait until each portion is absorbed before adding more sugar or oil.
- Wait 10 minutes after all ingredients have been incorporated and add more flour if necessary. The dough should be stiff but still sticky.
- Place dough in large bowl or dough bucket, cover, and allow to rise until double (1 to 2 hours; time will vary depending on room and dough temperature)
- I use cooking spray on the countertop and also to coat my hands to make handing the dough easier.
- Punch down the dough and let it bulk rise again for 1 to 2 hours (optional).
- After the dough has risen a second time, punch it down again and form your loaves.
- To form the loaves, begin by dividing the dough according to how many loaves you’d like to make (2 pieces if you made ½ the recipe or 4 pieces if you made the whole recipe).
- For each loaf, you will then further divide each piece into 2 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope that is about 2 feet long and then twist the pieces together.
- Form the twist into a circle and then tuck the ends underneath.
- Place the loaves on a parchment lined baking sheet (2 per sheet).
- If you are decorating with eggs, place a dyed egg in the center and gently push the egg down in the center.
- Cover loaves loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise for about 30 to 45 minutes or refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to bake, brush the loaves with the egg wash avoiding the dyed egg.
- About 20 minutes before you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degree F
- Place loaves in center of oven and bake until lightly golden (about 40 minutes).
- Begin checking loaves at 20-25 minutes and cover loosely with aluminum foil if they are browning too quickly)