Chef John's Easter Bread


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!

Prep Time:
40 mins
Cook Time:
20 mins
Additional Time:
14 hrs
Total Time:
15 hrs
4 small loaves


  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

  • ½ teaspoon white sugar

  • ¼ cup warm water (100 degrees F/38 degrees C)

  • ¾ cup white sugar

  • 4 eggs

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 ½ tablespoons anise extract

  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon extract

  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon anise seed

  • 6 tablespoons melted butter

  • ¼ cup milk

  • 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided


  1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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 (per serving)

325 Calories
10g Fat
49g Carbs
7g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 12
Calories 325
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 10g 13%
Saturated Fat 5g 23%
Cholesterol 78mg 26%
Sodium 310mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 49g 18%
Dietary Fiber 2g 5%
Total Sugars 13g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 1mg 4%
Calcium 26mg 2%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 99mg 2%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

** Nutrient information is not available for all ingredients. Amount is based on available nutrient data.

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a medically restrictive diet, please consult your doctor or registered dietitian before preparing this recipe for personal consumption.