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. Italian Easter bread or Pane di Pasqua, is often round, braided and dotted with colorful hard-boiled eggs. While most Easter breads take on this appeal, the breads, like most foods throughout Italy, vary from region to region.
The Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia feature more unique Easter breads. Some of the most interesting are the Coccoi Cun S’ou from Sardinia and the Pupo con l’uova from Sicily. Eggs are encased in bread which is sculpted into various intricate designs. In Sicily, a hard-boiled egg is placed in the center of the bread and designed as an Easter basket around it. Sicilians also create “baby-doll” breads which are made for little girls while breads shaped like ducks, lambs or even horses are given to boys.
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 of Italy.
There are several stories about Colomba Pasquale’s origins. One version dates the Colomba to 1176, when it was established to commemorate the Lombardian victory over Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. During the deciding battle, according to this version, 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.
Though 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.
Pane di Pasqua
- 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
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- vegetable oil for greasing proofing bowl
- 1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
- 6 dyed Easter eggs they do not need to be boiled
- colored sprinkles
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.
Cuddure – Sweet Sicilian Easter Bread
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/4 cup sugar
- 1-½ tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- ½ cup neutral cooking oil
- 2/3 cup milk
- zest of one lemon
- 1 tbsp anise liquor
- 2 large eggs, plus 2 large eggs for wash
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 6-8 hardboiled eggs
- nonpareils or sparkling sugar
Preheat oven to 400°F. Move the baking rack to the center of the oven. In a mixing bowl, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, eggs and milk. When the mixture is combined well, whisk in the liquor and lemon zest. Add the wet mixture to the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly until a shaggy dough begins to form.
Once the dough begins to form, turn it out onto a floured work surface. Continue kneading the dough to combine all ingredients well until you have a malleable dough. If the dough remains too wet, add flour until you reach the desired consistency.
Divide the dough into 6 to 8 equal pieces and shape them into any form desired. The dough can also be rolled out in a large sheet about 1/8 inch thick and large cookie cutters can be used to make the shapes.
Place the shaped dough onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Place one hard-boiled egg in the center of each piece. Secure the egg with strips of left over dough.
For the egg wash, whisk the 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon of water together until thoroughly combined. Lightly brush the tops of the cookies with the wash. Sprinkle the nonpareils or sparkling sugar over egg washed cookies.
Place the in the oven and bake for 18 – 20 minutes. If baking 2 trays at once, rotate the trays half way through baking. Bake until golden brown. Remove the trays from the oven and let cool at least 30 minutes prior to serving.