If you were lucky enough to grow up in an Italian-American home, there's a good chance you got to enjoy the smell of freshly baked Easter bread, with its unmistakable anisette aroma filling the air. This loaf of Easter bread is one of my favorite holiday traditions, and an authentic family heirloom recipe; made the same way as my mother, and her mother, and her mother's mother made it. I hope you give this a try, and remember, it's never too late to start an old family tradition. Frost with pink icing and top with sprinkles!

Recipe Summary

prep:
40 mins
cook:
20 mins
additional:
14 hrs
total:
15 hrs
Servings:
12
Yield:
4 small loaves
Advertisement

Ingredients

12
Original recipe yields 12 servings
The ingredient list now reflects the servings specified
Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Dissolve yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in warm water in a large bowl. Let stand until the yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam, about 10 minutes.

    Advertisement
  • Whisk 3/4 cup sugar, eggs, oil, anise extract, lemon zest, lemon extract, salt, and anise seed together in a bowl.

  • Pour egg mixture, melted butter, and milk into yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add 4 cups flour, 1 cup at time, stirring after each addition.

  • Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding remaining 1/2 cup flour as necessary, 5 to 6 minutes.

  • Coat a large bowl with oil. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat. Place a damp cloth over the bowl, place bowl in the oven with the oven light on, and let rise until doubled in size, 12 hours or overnight.

  • Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

  • Punch dough down and divide into four equal portions. Divide each portion into three ropes. Braid each set of three dough ropes to form four small braided loaves. Transfer loaves to prepared baking sheets, 2 per sheet, and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

  • Bake bread in the preheated oven until the tops are golden and the bottom of the loaves sound hollow when tapped, 20 to 25 minutes.

Chef John's Basic Lemon Icing:

Combine 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (optional), 1 tablespoon milk, 1 small drop food coloring (optional).
Stir until smooth. Glaze loaves on a cooling rack with a sheet pan or foil underneath to catch the drips.

Nutrition Facts

325 calories; protein 7.4g; carbohydrates 49.3g; fat 10.3g; cholesterol 77.7mg; sodium 310.1mg. Full Nutrition
Advertisement

Reviews (6)

Most helpful positive review

Rating: 5 stars
04/18/2014
I thought I'd try this bread as I am never satisfied with what we buy from the bakery. Just finished making this bread. Omg the taste is great, so much better than any bakery. Good thing there are four loaves or I don't think I'd have any left for dinner.! It's so easy to follow (and I never make bread). This will be a keeper in my recipe book for sure. Read More
(12)

Most helpful critical review

Rating: 3 stars
04/22/2019
It rose nicely...but the cake itself was a little dry for me. I only baked it for 20 min....so I don't think it was in the oven too long. Very pretty Easter dessert....but a little too dry for me. Read More
11 Ratings
  • 5 star values: 9
  • 4 star values: 1
  • 3 star values: 1
  • 2 star values: 0
  • 1 star values: 0
Rating: 5 stars
04/18/2014
I thought I'd try this bread as I am never satisfied with what we buy from the bakery. Just finished making this bread. Omg the taste is great, so much better than any bakery. Good thing there are four loaves or I don't think I'd have any left for dinner.! It's so easy to follow (and I never make bread). This will be a keeper in my recipe book for sure. Read More
(12)
Rating: 5 stars
04/04/2015
I married in to an Italian family. When my husband's grandmom died so did the hope of good Easter/Holiday bread. Until this recipe, that is! I am a fair baker, with minimal bread-making experience. I had no troubles! I did find that my bread rose much more quickly that it states. I also reduced the anise flavoring considerably and left out the seeds altogether. Great recipe! ( See pics) Read More
(6)
Rating: 4 stars
03/18/2019
Yes!! Excellent. Read More
(2)
Advertisement
Rating: 3 stars
04/22/2019
It rose nicely...but the cake itself was a little dry for me. I only baked it for 20 min....so I don't think it was in the oven too long. Very pretty Easter dessert....but a little too dry for me. Read More
Rating: 5 stars
04/13/2020
OMG! first time making this traditional Easter bread with my granddaughter. we love it! I grew up with this but never made it. Read More
Rating: 5 stars
04/01/2021
(an addendum to my last comment) Whoa!! awesome!..You nailed it Chef John!!....it was just like my Italian Grandmother made (I doubled the recipe to make 4 large loaves) It turned out delicious and brought back memories of when I was little. Thank you so much for sharing...It is a keeper! Buona Pasqua a tutti! Read More
Advertisement
Rating: 5 stars
04/01/2021
I am currently making this and I have to say, this was such an easy recipe to make. it love the silkiness and softness of the dough while kneading it. (Remember to not use more than just what's needed to keep it from sticking while kneading for 5-6 minutes.) For the life of me, I just don't understand why this has to rise 12 hours for the first rise? That is the only drawback I can see. I read another reviewer say hers rose a lot faster so I'm hope that's the case for me too. This is truly an authentic Italian Easter sweet bread recipe! What my mom of 91 years has made for us each year. thank you, Chef John! Read More
Rating: 5 stars
04/08/2021
....oh man. This will be a yearly tradition from now on. These are unique tasting and beautiful. Thanks again, Chef John. Read More