Italian Easter bread , or Pane di Pasqua, is one of my favorite things to make this time of year. It is sweet, fluffy, and full of orange and anise flavor. This type of bread goes back for hundreds of years and has religious roots. The meaning varies based on regions and culture, but generally the 3 braids represent the Holy Trinity. An egg is often added to symbolize rebirth. I normally skip the eggs, but they do make for a great snack with the bread, Simply add room temperature raw eggs to the braids and it will cook as the bread bakes. You will often find it decorated with sprinkles, icing and colorful eggs.
My version uses orange zest and whole star anise. I find that the anise extract can be overpowering and not add the subtle flavor I am looking for. I use a pestle and mortar to finely grind the whole star anise, then sift it into the flour, removing any large hard pieces.
One thing unique about this bread is bread forms long strands of gluten, making it almost stringy. I highly recommend giving it a try!
A sweet Italian bread with anise and orange.
Prepare the dough
Warm the milk and butter and set aside. It should be around 95 F, too hot and it will kill the yeast. If using whole star anise, crush and sift.
In a large bowl combine all the ingredients. Mix for around 10 minute or until smooth and elastic. Cover and let rest for an hour or until doubled in size.
Braid the bread
After the dough has rested, divide into 3 equal parts. Roll out each piece into snakes roughly 28 inches long. To braid the dough, pinch the ends of all three pieces together. Bring the rightmost piece into the center, then repeat with the leftmost. Repeat until fully braided.
Cover and let rest for an hour.
Brush the bread with the egg wash then place into the center of a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. It is done with the bread is a dark golden brown and the internal temperature is 200.You can also check doneness by pulling away at a piece of the bread to see the inside. It will be light an fluffy.