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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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
- 1 ¼ cups milk
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 2 ¼ teaspoons rapid rise instant yeast, 1 package
- ⅛ 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
- 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.
- 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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