Italian Easter bread has a special meaning in a country where traditions, different cultures and ancient habits mix together.
Italy still preserves many aspects of these passages in its food culture. An important role is played by religious festivities, as Christmas and Easter. Italian people still prepare particular dishes during those days to remember and celebrate Christ Birth and Resurrection.
Relating to bread, which is one of the most important Christian Symbols (Christ's body), a lot of types and variations are baked for these two main days. About Easter bread, it has no particular difference from the standard recipe, but Italian often prefer to transform the normal salted bread into tasty bread-cakes, similar to brioches or biscuits doughs.
Traditional bread is part of the daily menu for Easter. In this preparation, which can be of various types, eggs are always added and inserted in the dough before baking, which for the Christian tradition, symbolizing rebirth and spring season coming.
The bread is shaped into a braid, a very traditional form, reminiscent of the union family (and usually the number of eggs on bread also symbolizes the number of persons who are in the family), and Italian Southern families use to make crosses on each egg made with pieces of dough, to bless the bread and the whole meal.
But Italians usually celebrate Easter on two days: Sunday and Monday. On Sunday Easter lunch is always accompanied by bread in every dish except for pasta. On Monday the same dough (water, flour, yeast and salt) is enriched with other ingredients (milk and eggs) and natural yeast is replaced with the brewer's one.
When dough is enough leavened, people add pieces of typical cheese (like “Parmigiano”, “Caciocavallo”, etc.), sausages and even some type of vegetables and boiled eggs. A sort of filled pizza will be the "single dish" of the whole day.
Beside salted types of Italian Easter bread, Italian love to prepare a lot of cakes, made following traditional bread recipe. But doughs are fluffy, slightly sweet, rich and soft, like a brioche, because of sugar, milk and eggs often flavored with generous amount of citrus (orange or lemon), vanilla and anise oil and/or anise seeds.
Cakes are always topped with colorful sprinkles and an egg in the middle which can be coloured or decorated and usually the loaves are braided too and given away to friends and family.
But the best known and most important of Italian Easter bread variants is certainly the Easter Dove ("Colomba Pasquale"). The Dove is part of Easter gastronomic tradition the whole of Italy. Its origin goes back to the mid-sixth century when, during the siege of Pavia by King Alboin, a cake in the shape of a dove was offered to him as a sign of peace.
In the early years of the twentieth century several companies have created a cake with a taste similar to the Panettone, but with a dove appearance: a soft leavened cake filled with candied fruit and a crunchy coating of glaze and roasted almonds.