PANE DI PASQUA (Italy)
Pane di Pasqua, an Italian Easter Bread, is a fluffy sweet treat traditionally braided into a wreath, with brightly colored eggs baked inside. The eggs, of course, symbolize the rebirth of Spring, and the rich eggy dough is a just reward after Lent. This version is flavored with orange juice and a hint of ground anise (I used ground fennel).
What you need:
large mixing bowl and wooden or synthetic spoon
small bowl to mix eggs/use later for egg wash
wet and dry measuring cups, measuring spoons
large bowl, sprayed with vegetable spray, for rising
sheet pan or cookie sheet for baking lined with sprayed
wire cooling rack
heat proof bowl (approx. 4-5” diameter)
small cups for dying eggs
1⁄2 cup milk, warmed to 100F
1⁄4 cup white sugar
2 1⁄4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
4 - 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided in half
1 tsp kosher salt
1 orange, zested and juiced (roughly 1⁄2 c juice)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1⁄2 tsp ground fennel
6 eggs – dyed*
1 egg + 1 tsp water – beaten for egg wash
*Dye the eggs:
Each color of “dip” requires 1 cup boiling water mixed with 2 tsp white vinegar stirred with 15-20 drops of your favorite food coloring. Submerge egg in solution until color reaches the hue you desire. Remove to a wire rack to cool. I used neon food coloring - the colors are so vibrant and bright!
***IMPORTANT NOTE: you are coloring RAW eggs, not hard boiled. Baking in the oven will cook the eggs. If you color the eggs ahead of time, make sure to return them to the refrigerator until it’s time to bake.
Mix the warmed milk, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and set aside until mixture foams on top – about 5-8 minutes.
Mix 3 cups of the flour, orange zest, ground fennel and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
In the medium bowl, whisk the orange juice, eggs and melted butter together.
Now add all the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until moistened. Add the remaining flour until the dough comes together and is no longer sticky.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead gently for 5-10 minutes until soft and smooth. You might need to add a few TB of additional flour if it becomes sticky.
Place the kneaded dough in a sprayed bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour.
Once the dough is doubled, turn out gently onto a very lightly floured surface, and cut in 3 equal parts with a bench scraper.
Using the palms of your hands, roll each piece of dough into a 24” long rope (if the dough is too springy, cover it and let rest for another 5-10 minutes and try again).
Braid the 3 ropes on top of a sheet of parchment and form into a circle, pinching the ends together to form a circle. Place a liberally greased heat-proof bowl upside down in the center to keep the wreath open while baking.
Tuck the colored eggs into the wreath, gently parting the ropes to make room. Position them more towards the center of the dough so they don’t roll out during baking.
Carefully brush ONLY the dough with the egg wash (otherwise you’ll have a runny mess) and let rise until puffy and almost doubled: 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until dough sounds hollow when tapped.
Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes before transferring wreath to a wire rack.
Serve on a platter or cake stand - you can put fresh flowers or more eggs in the center. Alternately you can place the wreath on a bed of wheat grass for a natural feel, with a few little bunnies scattered about. Use your imagination! This wreath makes a beautiful centerpiece for your table or fantastic hostess gift.
I braided some leftover dough into a round challah the next day - yummmmy!