Italian Easter Bread

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A traditional festive Italian Easter Bread recipe that’s easy to make! This holiday bread with an egg in the middle is fun to decorate with family and makes a great gift for loved ones.

Easter Bread recipe with colored eggs

This Italian Easter bread is a fun and festive recipe similar to a challah egg bread. It’s a slightly sweet yeast-leavened baked treat that yields soft and tender slices with colorful sprinkles on top. You can work through each step, mixing, proofing, shaping and have time in between to decorate Easter eggs.

The eye-catching egg in the center will have your guests saying “oohs, and ahhs” about your beautiful creation. This recipe has been a family tradition starting with my husband’s grandmother Rose who made this every holiday. I love the vibrant colors and the fact this bread can be shaped in a variety of designs.

cutting a large piece of dough in half

What is yeast?

This Italian Easter Bread is made from a yeast-raised dough, the yeast acting as the leavening agent. Yeast is living organisms, so just like us, they need food to grow. During fermentation, the yeast eats the sugars in the dough, and the result (by-product) is the creation of alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol evaporates during baking and the carbon dioxide assists in leavening giving you airy bread.

three long ropes of dough on a lightly floured cutting board

How do you make yeast-leavened bread?

I use Fleischmann’s RapidRise instant yeast, which is added directly to the dry ingredients. The advantage of using instant yeast compared to active dry is you need only one rising step after shaping the bread into wreaths. This cuts preparation time in half!

I like to make my own homemade oven proofing box to create a warm and moist environment for the dough to elevate and expand. Just simply place the dough in a pan and cover with plastic wrap then place it in the oven.

twisting two pieces of dough around each other

How do you shape and decorate Easter bread?

This recipe yields three large wreaths, or you can make six mini wreaths with the dough. Two long ropes of dough are rolled out and then twisted to form a ring. A simple egg wash is brushed on each wreath just before baking to achieve the perfect golden brown color and shine on the Italian Easter bread.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget the sprinkles! The added pop of colors not only makes the finished product look beautiful, but it also adds just a touch of extra sweetness to each bite.

blue colored hard boiled eggs in the center of a ring of dough

Do you need to cook the eggs before baking?

No need for hard-boiled eggs since they will cook in the oven during the baking process. However, the eggs will be medium-hard with a soft center once baked. If you want a hard boiled egg, use the steam or boil method, or Instant Pot eggs work great too.

How do you decorate the eggs for the bread?

While the dough rises at room temperature, this is an excellent opportunity to color eggs, so they have plenty of time to dry. I use 24 Karat Easter Egg Coloring Kit which is a paint that sticks better to the shell, or Paas Golden Egg Decorating Kit from Target which is a traditional dye.

Raw eggs can be used, but make sure to remove them if you plan on saving the bread to be eaten the next day (food safety first!).

italian easter bread with a colorful blue egg in the center

How to not kill the yeast

Yeast is living organisms, sitting dormant when dried. When rehydrated with warm liquid, the yeast wakes up, become active, and starts to eat and ferment. Yeast dies at temperatures above 138°F (59ºC). In this recipe, warm milk is added at between 120 to130°F (49 to 54ºC). Any higher and the yeast will die, and the bread will not rise!

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Italian Easter Bread

A traditional Italian Easter Bread recipe that’s easy to make! A holiday bread with a colorful egg in the middle that's fun to decorate with family.
Pin Print Review
4.17 from 98 votes
Prep Time2 hrs 20 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time2 hrs 55 mins
Servings 18 servings
Course Bread
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons rapid rise instant yeast, 1 package
  • teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for kneading
  • 1 large egg, beaten plus 1 teaspoon water
  • 3 dyed easter eggs, raw or hard boiled
  • colored sprinkles

Instructions 

  • In a small saucepan, add milk and butter. Heat to 120 to 130°F (49 to 54ºC), stirring until the butter melts. Do not allow the milk to go above 130°F (54ºC).
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk together. Add the warmed milk and butter mixture. Add 2 cups of flour.
  • Attach a dough hook to a stand mixer and combine on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides with a spatula as needed to incorporate the flour.
  • 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 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. Do not use more than ¼ cup of flour.
  • Shape dough into a ball, cover with a dish towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Divide into 6 pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1-inch wide rope, about 14-inches long.
  • Taking 2 pieces, braid the rope, pinching the ends together and then loop into a circle. Make sure the ends are securely joined together.
  • Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (2 per sheet), providing enough room to rise.
  • Loosely cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap or a dish towel and allow to rise in a warm area, like a proofing box, until it doubles in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (177ºC). Set the rack in the middle position. 
  • Whisk together the large egg and 1 teaspoon water. Brush each braided bread with the egg wash.
  • 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 15 to 18 minutes.
  • Quickly transfer the baked bread to a cooling rack.

Notes

  • The recipe makes 3 Easter bread rings.
  • Each ring serves 6 people.
  • Six smaller rings can be made, adjust baking time accordingly.
  • Raw or hardboiled and dyed eggs can be used. Raw eggs will be softboiled after baking.

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Nutrition Facts
Italian Easter Bread
Amount Per Serving
Calories 163 Calories from Fat 36
% Daily Value*
Fat 4g6%
Saturated Fat 2g10%
Cholesterol 10mg3%
Sodium 24mg1%
Potassium 52mg1%
Carbohydrates 27g9%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 3g6%
Vitamin A 135IU3%
Calcium 24mg2%
Iron 1.3mg7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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Reader Interactions

80 Comments Leave a comment or review

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Cathy- Did you get a chance to try the bread for Easter? I cut large slices of the bread then froze it for french toast, it was delicious!

  1. Adrian says

    mY PARENTS WERE FROM ITALY AND MY MOM MADE SO MANY OF THESE WONDERFUL RECIPES BUT I NEVER PAID ATTENTION, REGRETTABLY. I WILL TRY MAKING THIS AND WILL BE DELIGHTED IF IT EVEN REMOTELY RESEMBLES YOURS. THANK YOU.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Jessica! Mixing by hand is a great alternative, as the hand mixer won’t be strong enough to mix the dough. It may take a little more time, but it’s great practice and you’ll be able to feel the dough gain elasticity and you knead it.

      • Sam says

        I always have the problem that my dough is still sticky and too runny, it never forms a ball unless I add more flour. Can you give me some tips? I’ve been mixing/kneading this dough for over half an hour…😬

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you so much Andrea! My husband inspired me to make this recipe because it’s a childhood favorite 🙂

  2. Rosemary says

    Just made these. Absolutely delicious! Came out exactly as pictured. Better than the recipe I’ve been using for 30 yrs! Thank you for sharing!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Rosemary! Wow, you really made my day! Your comment means a lot to me, and I am so happy that you enjoyed the recipe 🙂 Happy easter!

  3. Caycie says

    In the tips it says add yeast directly to dry ingredients but the recipe says to add if to the wet. Which is better?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Caycie- Great question! I made the bread today, so I updated the recipe slightly so it’s more clear. In general the rapid rise yeast can be added to dry ingredients like directly to flour, where as regular rise yeast you need to activate in warm milk first. For the easter bread recipe you mix the salt, sugar and yeast together, then add the liquid (eggs, milk, butter), and then gradually add the flour so it can gradually hydrate and then become a dough. This is a little bit of a combo method, and it will work as long as you don’t heat the milk and butter mixture about 130 degrees F. Please let me know if you have any additional questions 🙂

  4. Cathy says

    Jessica,

    My first attempt at this bread (actually, my first attempt at any bread) and it came out great, texture-wise! However, we are used to a sweeter bread. Could I double the sugar and if so, would I have to add extra liquid?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You are awesome Cathy! I’m so happy to hear that your first attempt and yeast leavened bread was a success 🙂 I have not tried doubling the amount of sugar, although 1 cup seems like it would be a lot. If you want to go to the “extreme” you could try that amount, then if the dough seems very dry as it’s mixing, you could add a tablespoon of extra milk at a time until it gets closer to the original recipes texture. You may need a little extra flour as you are shaping the dough because the dough may be more sticky from the sugar. You could also try adding 3/4 cup sugar as a slight increase and see if that’s enough sweetness for you. My only concern with the high amount of sugar is if the outsides would possibly become really dark and caramelize, but it’s worth a try! If adding sugar doesn’t work, maybe you can do a powdered sugar glaze on top of the bread after it is baked and cooled instead? Let me know how it turns out!

        • Jessica Gavin says

          Hi Lucille! It tastes the best when you make it fresh the same day. If you don’t add the egg or sugar than you can make it 1-2 days before and just reheat before serving.

  5. Judy says

    This is super pretty. I hope my new range is here before Easter so I can make this. I love everything you do Jessica. Your recipes are always hits.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Nadine- I’m glad to hear that the bread tasted good! Let’s figure out the issue with the eggs. What was the texture? Was it soft boiled? I have tried baking already hard boiled eggs but they cracked. I’m wondering if it needs about 10 more minutes bake time, but we don’t want the bread to over bake. Maybe soft boiling the eggs before you dye them, and then bake as the recipe indicates in the bread to get a hard boiled texture.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I haven’t just because of the size of the dough and mixing required. I would probably make separate batches instead of combining it all together and to stagger rising and bake times.

  6. Jean says

    I’ve always been afraid of yeast. Lol.
    But I have to say the recipe turned out great and I will try to be more adventurous in the near future.
    Thanks for the easy recipe.
    Delicious too.

  7. Sara says

    Hello! I want to make this, but only have active dry yeast on hand and the thought of running my 2 kids into the store the day before Easter makes my skin crawl. How can I substitute this?
    Thanks!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Sara- You can use active dry yeast, but you will need to do a proofing step for about 1 hour when you first mix the dough, and then another proofing step after the dough is shaped until doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.

  8. Sara says

    Love this recipe! I’ve made a few different variations over the years and like this one the best. The only thing different is leave out the egg in the middle because they never get eaten at my house. I instead, but a (washed) plastic egg with candy in the middle!

  9. Layla says

    Wow. So great to find you this am. 1st time up for sunrise service. (at home). And a reak and certified person. I, too, am self-certified danger to self and others. I subscribed.

  10. Kris says

    Thanks for this recipe Jessica! The bread would certainly be a hit in our home, though I will have to send the recipe to my husband, who is not afraid of yeast and is our breadmaker 🙂

  11. Jo says

    Hi. I will be making sixteen individùal bread with colored eggs. Do I have to refrigerate as I will be making them two days before Easter.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Jo- Wow, you are amazing! Since there are eggs in the center I do feel that you would need to refrigerate them. However, I’m concerned that the sprinkles and dye on the eggs will get condensation on them and potentially bleed and not look as nice. Is it possible to make them without the eggs, store them at room temperature and then reheat in a warm oven before serving?

  12. judy anderson says

    Hello….Can I use sesame seeds on the top instead of sprinkles? Love the recipe. Heading out the door to find some yeast. I’m in NY and basically can only go out for food. I need some basics so I’ll dash down the yeast aisle to see if there is any.
    Stay safe.

  13. Cristina Carpanzano says

    I only have fresh yeast… do you know how much fresh yeast I should use and how would I use it in this recipe?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Cristina- To substitute fresh yeast for instant dry, use 3 times the amount. So use 6 3/4 teaspoons of fresh yeast in the recipe. Please let me know how it goes!

      • Cristina Carpanzano says

        Just one more question ,
        Do I add the fresh yeast to the milk, sugar and egg mixture like I would with the dry yeast or do I dissolve it in the milk alone first before adding the sugar and eggs

  14. Ken Savino says

    Nice clear instructions. My Grandmother made one bread for each of 11 grandchildren for Easter. Always in the shape of an Easter Bunny, about 8’ x 18” tall. Colored egg in tummy, with a dough cross over the egg (representing Jesus resurrection) She jaded the breaded loaves for the adults. Thank you for keeping Pane Di Pasqua alive. I am going to do it!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Angela- Use equal amounts of active dry yeast in the recipe. You need to proof it first. Mix 1/4 cup of water (105ºF) with 1 teaspoon sugar, add the yeast, let it sit for 10 minutes until bubbling. Only use 1 cup of milk, and do not heat the milk and butter above 110ºF. Follow the rest of the direction starting at step 2. You’ll have to let the dough double in size for at least 1 – 2 hours in a warm spot (instead of 10 minutes rest). Shape the dough and then let it rise again as stated in the directions. Please let me know how it turns out!

  15. Adriana Staley says

    During this time, and not having or able to find any yeast. Can I substitute the yeast?
    Thank you

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Adriana- Unfortunately you cannot use another substitute for this recipe. I’ve read that you can substitute equal amounts of double-acting baking powder for the yeast, but the texture will not be the same, it will be missing that springy chewy texture that yeast bread has and may be more dense.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Yes, you can definitely add some anise extract. I would add about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of the extract to the milk and butter mixture after heating. Let me know how it tastes!

  16. Steph says

    Turned out amaaazing! I doubled the recipe and added anise seeds and raisins (soaked together in citrus rind, honey, oj and dash of liquor). I formed about 18 large bunny shaped buns with my daughter, brushed with egg wash and added a few sprinkles – huge hit!

  17. Charlene James says

    First time baking with yeast. Followed the instructions but the bread did not rise during baking. Tastes ok, but no where near as pretty as its picture. Any hints for avoiding this happening again are most appreciated. Thanks, and Happy Easter!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Charlene- I’m so excited for you! Did you check the temperature of the liquid before adding it to the dough? Too hot of liquid can kill the yeast. Did it double in size after shaping? What was the temperature of the room? Did you let the dough rise somewhere warm like in a sunny window?

  18. Steph says

    Hi there!
    I’m literally in the middle of making this – my rings are rising at the moment.
    I accidentally cut the dough into 8 pieces instead of 6 – so I’m now going to end up with 4 smaller rings Instead of 3.
    Question – how long should I put them into the oven for?
    Question two – I currently have 2 rings on baking paper and I’ve put them onto trays. So I have two trays with two rings on each.
    Can I cook two rings at a time, or can I only bake one at a time?
    Thanks heaps! I’ll update u once I’m done! X

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Steph- I would check the baking time after 10 minutes, then every minute or so after. It may be a shorter time since the bread size is smaller. I recommend baking 1 tray at a time. Put the other rings in a room that is not so warm so that it doesn’t rise too much as the other tray is baking.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      The dough will be bit sticky from the sugars. When kneading on the board after mixing, did you add about an 1/4 cup more flour? If needed, add a few tablespoons more, but don’t add too much because the dough will get dry and stiff. You want it to be slightly tacky, smooth, and easy to work with.

  19. Megan says

    Can I let the bread do its last rise in the fridge overnight, then bake the next day? If so, should I let it come to room temp before baking? Will I need to bake it longer?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Megan- You can shape the dough and refrigerate it overnight. However, you will need to let it come to room temperature and still let it rise until doubled in size. Not much rise will happen in the refrigerator from the yeast because of the cool temperature. I would take the bread out first thing in the morning. Check out my oven proofing box method if you need a warmer environment. Let me know how it goes!

  20. Lynn says

    Hi,
    My nana made this every Easter. She’s been gone a while now so I’m trying this today to surprise my dad. Your recipe sounds like the one she made except it was one large ring?? My Nana’s had an orange glaze too, would that just be adding orange zest to the powdered sugar glaze?
    I’m so excited to try this but EXTREMELY nervous!!
    Thanks Lynn

  21. Angela says

    My bread turned out perfectly with the directions you provided on using active instead of rapid dry yeast. Thank you for teaching me how to do this. I doubled the recipe and will be dropping 5 of them off at my siblings homes for Easter since we are trying to adhere to social distancing and will not be able to get together tomorrow. I really appreciate your help.

  22. chris suter says

    Your Italian easter bread was to die for so light and very good I am a chef too I’m so glad I found you. Happy EASTER

  23. Tara says

    I have never made homemade bread of any sort before trying your recipe. The texture was almost like that of a soft pretzel. The taste was fine. The yeast leavened as my bread rised and I made sure the milk was not too warm. I was wondering if you have any ideas on what I did wrong. Thanks!

  24. Cindy says

    I tried this recipe and the braids fused together when I baked it. They look like giant bagels lol. Not sure what I did wrong, I followed the recipe step by step. But they taste delicious!

  25. Mary B says

    I have been looking for a recipe for this bread for a long time, thank you for posting this here! Also, I followed the directions for using active dry yeast and it turned out perfectly! Is there a place I can get this recipe in print? I want to make it a permanent part of my Easter tradition.

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