Italian Easter Bread, Pane di Pasqua
“A table without bread is not a table, but bread is a table on its own.” -Scottish Gaelic Proverb
Bread? For dessert, you say? Why not?
There is something about baking something as part of a tradition that makes me feel important. This traditional bread is made around Easter time and is the perfect representation of new spring colors. Usually, this bread is shaped into a ring with an egg in the middle. This is supposed to symbolize the crown of thorns that Jesus Christ wore at the crucifixion. But I’ve taken some liberty with the shaping of this sweet bread into one long braid. The placement of the eggs symbolizes the mind, stomach, and sole.
The mind, stomach, and sole are all satisfied while munching on a slice of this bread. It has a subtle sweet flavor that is cut with the fresh citrus flavor of lemon. If a sweeter taste is desired, put a glaze using powdered sugar and milk on the top. And the best part? This bread is a relatively simple bake to make.
Ensuring the milk and butter are heated properly is a little tricky. If the mixture is overheated it will kill the yeast when it is added. Besides this bit, it all comes down to letting it prove for long enough and letting it bake for a chunk of time. Adding some colorful easter eggs and colored sprinkles makes this bread look festive.
This loaf is big enough for an entire family to share and looks delightfully joyful. Hopefully, it can become a tradition of your own.
1 ¼ cups milk
⅓ cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ cup of sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
4 cups flour
1 large lemon, zested
1 large egg beaten, plus 1 teaspoon water
3 dyed Easter eggs, raw
In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter, stirring constantly until the cubes of butter melt (Note: the mixture should be heated at least 120 ℉and no more than 130°F, heating it over 130 will overact the yeast).
In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk together. Then add the warmed milk and butter mixture.
Attach a dough hook to a stand mixer and add 2 cups of flour and combine on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Slowly add the remaining 2 cups of flour to the mixer on medium-low speed and scrape the sides as needed. Knead until the dough is stiff and slightly sticky, about 8-12 minutes.
Place the dough on a lightly floured board and hand knead for about 3 to 4 minutes, adding a little more flour to prevent sticking. Knead in the lemon zest.
Shape dough into a ball, cover with a dish towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into equal three parts (Note: for accuracy using a scale is recommended). Roll out 3 pieces into ropes about 1-inch wide and 14-inches long.
Attached the three rope pieces on one end and braid them together. Create three holes in the braid, one on top, middle, and bottom. Place objects in the holes so that they won’t close in again. (shot glasses work well)
Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and loosely cover the baking sheet with a dish towel. Allow the bread to rise in a warm area, like a proofing box, until it doubles in size, 50 to 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (177ºC)
Whisk together the large egg and 1 teaspoon water. Brush the braided bread with the egg wash, then, if desired, top the bread with sprinkles.
Gently place one dyed egg in the center of each braided ring. Do not press into the dough, it will sink as it bakes.
Bake one tray at a time until golden brown, approximately 35 to 45 minutes.
Quickly transfer the baked bread to a cooling rack.