With so many of us having a bit more time on our hands, now is the time to pull out your family's favorite Spring Treat recipes & hit the kitchen. I have fond memories of my grandmother baking up a storm every Easter.
With its simple notes or star anise & orange & its brightly colored egg accents, this Italian Easter Bread, or Pane Pasquale, was always one of my favorites. Now is the perfect time to try my recipe for this this fluffy, not-too-sweet treat!
The brightly colored eggs adorning this bread are completely optional, but give it such a festive look they are worth the effort! Eggs are often associated with Easter & Spring, as they are considered symbols of life & birth. It is important to note that the eggs are not to be hard-boiled prior to baking with the bread! The eggs cook to a soft boil while in the oven with the bread. It is traditional to dip the bread into the center of one of the eggs as you devour it. Some people [myself included] prefer to dye them prior to baking for extra pizazz, but they can be left au-naturel if you wish or don’t have dying ingredients on hand. Others prefer hard boiled eggs, & so leave them off while baking & nestle hard boiled eggs into already baked bread before serving. Baker’s choice here--but I will give instructions for doing it the traditional way.
This is a classic, two-rise bread recipe. Mix your ingredients & allow the dough to double in size during the first rise. Then, shape the dough & add your eggs before allowing it to rise again for about one hour. Traditionally, this dough is divided into three pieces & braided, then formed into a wreath with the eggs tucked in evenly around it. I have also created large braided loaves with it instead [akin to a Challah-shape] & some people even choose to create individual mini wreaths, each with their own egg in the center. Again, I say baker’s choice here; simply how you cut your dough & adjust your baking times depending on your choices. Let’s get started, shall we?
Traditional Pane Pasquale [2 Wreath-Loaves]
8 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups milk [whole is best here]
½ cup sugar
1 orange, zested & juiced
4½ tsp (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
1 cup margarine, melted
1 tsp salt
1 TBS i Tres Grandi Extract [or anise extract]
1 tsp Vanilla2 Double Vanilla Extract [or regular vanilla]
2 TBS unsalted butter, melted
Decoration & Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup milk
½ tsp i Tres Grandi Extract [or orange or vanilla extract]
10 Colored Eggs, uncooked, dyed or natural [5 for each wreath]
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl; set aside. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is warm to the touch, but not hot. The temperature of the milk should be between 110 & 115 degrees F. While the milk is warming, place the sugar in a small bowl & add the zest of your orange. With your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until it is completely incorporated.
Once the milk reaches the correct temp, stir in the sugar-zest mixture, stirring to dissolve. Add the yeast, stir; let sit for 10 minutes. Add the milk & yeast mixture to the flour & begin to mix it into a dough (it will be shaggy at this point). Next, add the melted margarine & continue to mix. Add the orange juice to the dough & combine.
In a small bowl, use a fork to lightly beat together the eggs, salt, & baking extracts. Add to the dough & continue mixing. You may need to add more flour to the dough at this point to get it to come together., depending on how much juice you got out of your orange. Once a sticky ball of dough formed, turn it out onto a floured surface & knead for about 5 minutes, until soft & elastic. It should remain slightly tacky.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat, & cover. Place in a draft-free area & prove [allow to rise] until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, line two baking sheets with parchment paper & set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a clean surface & divide in two. Divide each half into three (so you have six pieces of dough). Braid one set & then the other. Roll three pieces of dough into 24-inch long ropes. Loosely braid these ropes together on one of the prepared baking sheets & bring the ends together to form a ring, twisting and pinching the ends together to seal. Use your fingers to slide the eggs between the braids of dough, evenly spacing them around your wreath. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough on the second tray so that you have two circular, braided loaves. Brush the tops of each with melted butter, loosely cover, & prove until nearly doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Bake one until golden brown on top, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Once the breads have cooled, you can glaze them (if you desire). Whisk together the powdered sugar, extract, & milk, adding more if necessary to reach the desired consistency. Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze onto the top & sides of the bread. It is traditional to also decorate with colored sprinkles. It is amazing served warm or at room temperature. If you have leftovers, wrap well & store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
This recipe will yield two good-sized wreaths-- one for you & perhaps one to share with an elderly or self-quarantined neighbor who cannot get out easily for food & supplies. Its beauty is certain to brighten their day, as will its tastiness! You will find this bread to be light & fluffy, with some sweetness provided by the orange & anise. I look forward to eating a big slice toasted for breakfast the next day.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. Take care & STAY SAFE.