This easy Italian Easter bread is fluffy, slightly sweet, and full of citrus and anise flavors. The hard boiled eggs make it so festive and pretty, and kids love this tradition!
I wish I had some touching story about how I made this with my grandma every Easter when I was little, but the fact is that my kids saw some pictures of these online and wanted to make them, so we gave them a try! So that’s what we did and now they will be a tradition in our family, just like our Empty tomb rolls.
Now maybe like 30 years from now, my grandkids will be able to talk about making these with me every Easter. This is how traditions start!
Italian Easter bread has a similar taste and texture to challah bread. It is eggy and has just a slight sweetness to it. I always love all the symbolism associated with Easter recipes, like our hot cross buns, and this one is no exception.
The bread represents Jesus Christ being the Bread of Life, and the eggs represent new life and rebirth is Christ. The bread is also traditionally baked in a wreath to symbolize the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head at the crucifixion.
How to Make Italian Easter Bread
Let’s jump right and in talk about how to make this Easter bread. I know that yeast breads can be intimidating for some, so let’s go through each step together. No intimidation allowed!
Step 1: We are going to activate the yeast. Warm up the milk in a glass measuring cup in the microwave. I like to warm it up in 30 second increments and give it a stir after each 30 seconds. Once it is nice and warm (but not boiling!), add the butter and stir it until melted. Then add the sugar and yeast. Let it sit for a few minutes until the yeast gets frothy and bubbly. See section below for more info on yeast!
Pro tip: If your yeast doesn’t bubble, then either your milk was too hot and it killed the yeast, or your yeast wasn’t good to begin with. This is pretty rare, but if it happens, you’ll need to start over with new yeast.
Step 2: Next, we are going to combine all the wet and dry ingredients to form the dough. Combine the yeast/milk mixture with the salt, orange zest, and 1 cup of flour in the bowl of a stand mixer and blend them all together. Add the eggs and another 1/2 cup of flour and mix together. This will make a thick batter. Beat it on high speed for 2 minutes. Then add flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough draws away from the sides of the bowl.
Step 3: Then we come to everyone’s favorite part of bread making…kneading! Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes.
Step 4: Once the dough is kneaded, it is time for the first proof or rise. Put the dough into a greased bowl and turn it so that all sides get greased and then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Place it in a warm place and let it rise until doubled (about 1 hour).
How to Make Italian Easter Bread continued…
Step 5: While the dough rises, combine the raisins, orange extract and anise extract in a bowl. Then when the dough has doubled, punch it down and place it on a lightly floured surface. Knead in the fruit mixture. It will be difficult to get the dried fruit incorporate, but just keep at it!
Step 6: During this step, we are going to form the dough into the wreath. Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a 24-inch rope. If any little fruit pieces escape, just stick them back into the dough. Take the two dough ropes and loosely twist them together and form them into a ring. Place the ring on a greased baking sheet and pinch the ends together so the ends are sealed together well.
Step 7: Now we are going to prepare the wreath for the second proof or rise. Whisk together an egg white and water and brush the top of the wreath with the egg white mixture. Grab your dyed uncooked eggs and open up a few spots in the twisted dough to place the eggs. Push the eggs down into the dough as far as you can.
How to Make Italian Easter Bread…the final steps…
Step 8: Cover the bread with a towel or plastic wrap and let it rise again in a warm, draft-free place until it has doubled (about 1 hour). When the dough is close to being ready, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Step 9: After the second rise, remove the towel or plastic wrap and bake the bread in a preheated oven (350 degrees F) for 30-35 minutes. The top should be golden brown and the bread should sound hollow when you tap on it.
Step 10: When the bread is done, move it to a wire rack to cool. While it is cooling, prepare the sweet glaze (see section below), and then drizzle the bread with the glaze when it is slightly warm. Add sprinkles if desired!
How to Make the Sweet Glaze
Right when the bread comes out of the oven, combine all the ingredients to make the sweet glaze (powdered sugar, milk and vanilla). Stir them all together until they are smooth. More milk should be added if needed. It should be smooth but not runny. Drizzle all over the bread while it is slightly warm. Sprinkle the glazed bread with sprinkles to make it extra colorful and fun!
What is the Correct Yeast to Use?
There are reasons to use different types of yeast but for this recipe we use instant yeast. Head to our post about the differences between active dry yeast and instant yeast for all the details.
What is Anise?
Anise is a Mediterranean plant with seeds that are very aromatic. The seeds are used for cooking and in herbal medicines and have a black licorice scent and flavor. The anise extract gives this bread the best flavor, but if you don’t like the flavor of black licorice, different substitutes can be used.
Substitutes for Anise Extract
Vanilla extract can be used as a substitute for the anise if you don’t care for the anise flavor. If you want keep the anise flavor but just don’t have any anise extract, you can use anise flavored liqueur (about 1 tsp for this recipe) or ground anise (1 tsp for this recipe). Fennel seeds and caraway seeds also have a similar flavor to anise and could be used (2 tsp for this recipe).
You can also change the amount of the extracts to your taste as well as omit the raisins or use chopped, dried fruits instead.
Do the Eggs Need to be Hard Boiled First?
No, the eggs should be dyed raw. Be careful not to drop or crack them! They can be placed in the bread uncooked. The will be perfectly cooked when the bread is done.
This Italian Easter bread is so fun! It is great for teaching the littles about the meaning of Easter. They also make quite impressive gifts for friends or neighbors! And above all of that, it is just dang good! So fluffy, eggy, and perfectly sweet! Happy Easter, friends! Xoxo!
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Easy Italian Easter Bread
For the Bread
- 2/3 Cup Whole Milk
- 2 Tablespoons Butter
- 1/4 Cup Sugar
- 2 1/4 Teaspoons Instant Yeast
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- Zest of 1 Large Orange
- 3 - 3 1/2 Cups Flour
- 2 Large Eggs room temperature
- 1/2 Cup Golden Raisins
- 1/2 Teaspoon Orange Extract
- 1/2 teaspoon Anise Extract
- 1 Egg White
- 1 Teaspoon Water
- 5 Eggs Hardboiled colored with Easter-egg dye
- 1 Cup Powdered sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Milk
- 1/8 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- colored sprinkles for decoration
For the Bread
- In a glass measuring cup, slowly warm the milk in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the butter and stir until melted.
- Add the sugar and yeast. Allow to sit for a minute.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, blend the milk mixture, salt, orange zest and 1 cup of the flour.
- Add the two eggs and 1/2 cup flour or enough to make a thick batter. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Stir in more flour, enough to make dough that draws away from the sides of the bowl.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes.
- Place the dough into a greased bowl, turning to grease the top and cover tightly with plastic wrap and put into a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, combine the raisins, orange extract and anise.
- Punch down the dough and return it to a lightly floured board. Knead in the fruit mixture, remembering that the dried fruit will have a hard time being incorporated.
- Divide the dough in half. Carefully roll each piece into a 24-inch rope, placing any lost fruit back into the dough.
- Loosely twist the two ropes together and form it into a ring on a greased baking sheet. Pinch the ends together well.
- Whisk together the egg white and water.
- Brush the dough with the egg white mixture.
- Open up the twist slightly to make a place for each colored egg. Carefully push the eggs down into the dough as far as possible.
- Cover the bread with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until double in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Bake the bread in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden.
- Place onto a wire rack to cool.
- Drizzle with sweet glaze around the eggs and quickly top with sprinkles.
- While the bread is still slightly warm, combine powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla and stir until smooth. Add more milk if necessary until smooth but not runny.
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