In Italy, bread is a symbol of life, so it is no surprise that pane is an essential part of Pasqua, the holiday that marks the Resurrection of Christ. This year, Easter will be especially poignant as the country celebrates the most holy day while still dealing with the virus outbreak.
There is no doubt that more households will be preparing their own Easter breads at home this year. Pane di Pasqua is often prepared at home as a braided, round loaf. Baked within the bread are colorful hard-boiled eggs. While many in Italy prepare Easter breads in this manner, like many foods in the country, Pane di Pasqua varies from region to region.
The most traditional Easter bread baked throughout Italy is the Colomba Pasquale or Easter Dove. The bread was first made in the Lombardy region and its popularity spread throughout the country. Today, it is often described as the national Pane di Pasqua d’ Italia. There are several stories about Colomba Pasquale’s origins. One version dates to 1176, when it was established to commemorate the Lombardian victory over Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. During the deciding battle, two doves representing the Holy Ghost miraculously appeared on the battle standards.
Another legend dates the bread to 572, when King Alboin conquered Pavia after a three-year siege. To convince the King to free her city, a clever maiden set to work devising a sweet bread in the shape of a dove, the symbol of peace. She presented the bread to the King and he was so charmed that he spared Pavia from destruction and made it his capital.
Although there are many versions of the origin of the bread, the recipe remains consistent. Colomba Pasquale is flavored with diced candied orange and lemon rinds and decorated with sliced almonds and baked in a dove-shaped mold or molded by hand, when made at home.
Pane di Pasquale
1 package (2-1/4 tsp) rapid rise instant yeast
1-1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp of salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
vegetable oil for greasing proofing bowl
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tsp of water
6 dyed Easter eggs – do not need to be boiled
In a small saucepan, add the milk and butter to the pan. Heat the milk to 120 to 130°F, stirring the milk until the butter melts. Do not allow the milk to go above 130°F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, salt, eggs and sugar. Add the warmed milk and butter mixture. Add 2 cups of the flour to the mixing bowl. Attach a dough hook to the mixer and combine until smooth on medium speed, for about 2 minutes. Scrape sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
Slowly add the remaining 2 cups of flour to the mixing bowl, kneading the dough on medium-low speed, scraping the sides as needed. Knead until smooth until the dough is stiff, no longer sticky, about 14 minutes. Shape dough into a ball and place into a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour in a warm place until the dough doubles in size.
Punch the dough down and divide into 12 pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1-inch rope, about 14 inches long. Taking 2 pieces, twist the pieces to create a braid shape, pinching the ends together and loop into a circle.
Place the shaped dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet (3 per sheet), spacing the braided dough so that it has enough room to rise. Loosely cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour, until it doubles in size.
Brush each braided bread with the beaten egg wash. Top with sprinkles, as desired. Gently place one dyed Easter egg in the center of each braided bread ring.
Bake the bread at 350°F until golden brown, approximately 18-20 minutes. Quickly transfer the baked bread to a cooling rack.
Biga (overnight starter)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cool water
1/8 tsp instant yeast
2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp instant yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tbsp butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk, white reserved for topping
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp orange citrus oil
grated peel of 1 orange
1 cup dried fruit, of your choice, chopped
1 large egg white, reserved from dough
3 tbsp almond flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp sliced almonds
6 tsp coarse white sugar or pearl sugar
The night before you want to make the bread, mix together the biga ingredients in a bowl. Cover the bowl and leave it at room temperature for 12 to 15 hours.
The next day, using the bowl for a stand mixer, combine the biga (it will be bubbly) with all of the remaining dough ingredients, except for the grated orange rind and the fruit. Mix to combine. Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 12 minutes at medium speed, stopping the mixer every 3 minutes to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. By the end of the kneading time, the dough should have become elastic and satiny. It should be starting to leave the bottom and sides of the bowl, though it will not form a smooth ball. Knead in the grated orange rind and dried fruit. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for 3 hours. The dough will become quite puffy.
Divide the dough in two pieces, with one slightly larger than the other. Shape one into a 10″ log, with one tapered end and the other into a 7″ log. Place the longest log lengthwise on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet; use the edge of your hand to form a crease in the center. Lay the shorter log crosswise across it, right at the crease. Shape the shorter log into wings by pulling it into a crescent shape. On the longer log, lightly fan one side outward for the dove’s tail and for the head, shape it into a roundish form. Cover the shaped loaf with a lightly greased plastic wrap and set it aside to rise for two hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Make the topping by mixing the egg white, ground almonds and sugar. Gently paint this glaze all over the loaf; be generous. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds, then the pearl or coarse sugar.
Bake the loaf for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 350°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes, tenting it for the final 10 minutes of baking. The finished loaf will be golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will register 190°F. Remove the bread from the oven and carefully slide it onto a rack to cool.