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Easter breads for a special morning

Garry Knight, Wikimedia Commons

Consider serving some traditional hot cross buns to help observe Easter this year.


I have mentioned before that my Italian grandmother used to bake an impressive array of Easter breads every year. Many in our family still carry on that tradition.

I don’t make them every year, but sometimes I just feel like making at least one nice, sweet yeast bread for old time’s sake.

If you feel in the mood for making yeast bread to help celebrate Easter, here are a few recipes you might wish to try. Have a special holiday and may you enjoy many blessings in your life.

Mini Italian Easter breads

I don’t have any luck baking colored eggs in the bread. The colors blister and the eggs don’t peel well. I much prefer to shape aluminum foil the same size and shape as real eggs, and bake the breads using those. When the breads are done, replace the foil eggs with the real ones. Works great.

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 cup warm milk (100 to 115 degrees, or as package directs)

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon grated orange zest (optional)

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature, not melted

Egg wash:

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons milk


4 hard-cooked eggs, in shell and colored

Colored sugar, for sprinkling

Colored sprinkles, optional

1. In a small bowl, combine dry yeast, 1/2 cup of the milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, sift flour and add salt; set aside.

2. In a bowl (you can use a stand mixer), whisk together sugar and eggs, until sugar is dissolved. Add vanilla, then add the other 1/2 cup of milk. Add in yeast and milk mixture and whisk to combine. Add 1/2 of the flour and mix until well combined. At this time, you can add the lemon juice, orange zest and lemon zest.

3. Gradually add the rest of the flour, mixing just until combined (If you use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a dough hook, use speed setting 4 to 6). Dough should be soft and sticky.

4. Transfer the dough to a working surface and start kneading, slowly adding the softened butter with hands. Mix the butter in completely.

5. Transfer dough to a large greased and floured bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at a warm place, until it doubles its size. This may take between 2 to 3 hours, depending on the temperature, humidity and types of ingredients used.

6. Prepare the egg wash for brushing the bread by whisking together 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk. Keep in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350. Divide dough into 4 balls.

7. Cut each ball in half, then roll ropes and braid them together, forming a circle and leaving a spot in the middle to place the egg. Transfer the breads to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap, let them rise for 30 to 45 minutes, until they double their size. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar or sprinkles.

8. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out clean and the tops are golden. Let the breads cool at room temperature and store wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 1 week. Makes 4 mini Easter breads.

Hot cross buns

I used to grate nutmeg, but admit I have gotten lazy over the years and just use pre-ground.

2 teaspoons grated orange zest, plus 3/4 cup fresh juice (from about 3 oranges), divided

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup dried currants (or dark raisins)

1/3 cup sugar

1 envelope (1/4-oz.) instant yeast (different than activated)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

4 1/2 cups flour, divided, plus more for work surface

3/4 cup whole milk, warmed (about 110 degrees)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 large eggs, beaten

Cooking spray

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon apricot jam

1. In a small microwavable bowl, stir together orange juice, raisins and currants. Cover with plastic wrap; microwave on HIGH until just warm, about 1 minute or less. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Let mixture cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Drain well, reserving 1 tablespoon orange juice for glaze. Set plumped raisins and currants aside.

2. (See note if mixing dough by hand.) Place sugar, yeast, salt, orange zest, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and 4 1/4 cups of the flour in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; beat on medium speed until just combined, about 15 seconds. Add warm milk, softened butter, and eggs; beat until a shaggy dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove paddle attachment from mixer; connect dough attachment. Beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes (dough will stick to bottom of bowl but not the sides). Add drained raisins and currants; beat until evenly mixed in, 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Transfer dough to a large bowl coated with cooking spray; cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; divide evenly into 12 (about 3 1/2-ounce) pieces; shape into balls. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper; coat with cooking spray. Arrange dough balls in prepared pan; cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 375. Whisk together water and remaining 1/4 cup flour in a small bowl until a paste forms. Spoon into a resealable plastic bag; snip a 1/4-inch-wide corner off bag. Pipe a cross on top of each dough ball in pan.

6. Bake until buns are golden brown, 20 to 24 minutes. Remove from oven. Whisk together jam and reserved orange juice in a small bowl until combined. Brush evenly over warm buns. Using a spatula, remove buns from pan, and transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm, or let cool completely, about 1 hour. Makes 12 rolls.

Note: Proceed with step 1 as directed. In step 2, stir together sugar, yeast, salt, zest, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and 4 1/4 cups of the flour in a large bowl using a wooden spoon. Add milk, butter and eggs; stir until a shaggy dough forms. Turn out onto a clean work surface, and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Dough will be very sticky and will smear across work surface for first few minutes until gluten is developed (use a scraper to bring dough back into a ball after smearing). Spread dough into a 9-inch circle; pile raisins and currants on top. Fold dough in half to sandwich add-ins; knead until evenly incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Continue with steps 3 through 6 as directed.

Hawaiian sweet rolls

1 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup buttermilk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup honey

5 1/2 cups flour (see note about measuring)

1 tablespoon Rapid-Rise or instant yeast (see note about yeast)

2 teaspoons salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon vanilla

4 tablespoons honey butter (see recipe)

Note for measuring flour: The most accurate way to measure flour is to weigh it with a small, inexpensive kitchen scale. Many are priced around $20. If you don’t want to use a scale, use a spoon or scoop to fluff the flour in your container and fill the measuring cup. The flour should be light and airy, not packed.

Note about yeast: Dry yeast comes in two forms: active and instant. Active describes any dry yeast that needs to be activated prior to use, while instant dry yeast describes any dry yeast that’s ready for use the instant you open the package.

Honey butter: Honey butter, as the name implies, is made by mixing butter and honey. Start with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of room temperature unsalted butter and mix in 2 tablespoons of honey at a time until you achieve the desired taste. Store leftover honey butter in the refrigerator and use it on toast, muffins, or rolls.

1. Combine the pineapple juice, buttermilk, butter and honey in a large liquid measuring cup. Microwave in 30 second intervals until the temperature reaches 110. The mixture may become curdled, this is normal.

2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, yeast and salt on low speed until combined. With the mixer on low speed, gradually pour in the warm pineapple mixture followed by the egg and vanilla.

3. Mix on low speed until the dough begins to come together, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-low and mix until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl. It may still stick to the bottom.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

5. Punch the dough down to deflate it and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into 15 equal-sized portions. Shape each portion into a smooth ball and arrange them in a lightly oiled 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and set in a draft-free area to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

6. Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 375. Brush the top of the rolls with melted honey butter. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown, rotating halfway through the baking time. The internal temperature of the rolls should be 190 degrees.

7. Brush the rolls with more melted honey butter and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Transfer the rolls from the pan to a wire rack and cool for another 20 minutes. Rolls are best when eaten the day they are made. Fully baked rolls can also be frozen in an airtight container. Thaw overnight at room temperature then reheat in a 300-degree oven for 10 minutes. Makes 15 rolls.

One-rise cinnamon rolls

2 3/4 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 teaspoons Red Star Platinum yeast (preferred) or 1 packet any brand instant yeast

1/2 cup whole milk

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large egg


3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar or packed light or dark brown sugar


1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 to 3 tablespoons strong-brewed coffee or milk

1. For the dough: In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt and yeast together; set aside.

2. Combine the milk, water and butter together in a heatproof bowl. Microwave or use the stove and heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm to touch (about 110 degrees). Pour into the dry ingredients, add the egg, and stir until it forms a soft dough or use your mixer.

3. On a lightly floured surface using floured hands, knead the dough for 3 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl (can use non-stick spray), cover loosely, and let rest for about 10 minutes as you get the filling ingredients ready.

4. For the rolls: After 10 minutes, roll the dough out in a 14-by-8-inch rectangle. Spread the softened butter on top. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle it evenly all over the dough. Roll up the dough tightly to make a 14-inch log. Cut into 10 to 12 even rolls and arrange in a lightly greased 9-inch round cake pan or pie dish (can use larger pan if needed).

5. Tightly cover the rolls with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free environment for 60 to 90 minutes. Remove foil.

6. After the rolls have doubled in size, preheat the oven to 375. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes until lightly browned. If you notice the tops are getting too brown too quickly, loosely cover the rolls with aluminum foil and continue baking.

7. For icing: Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and coffee or milk together. Drizzle or spread over warm rolls.

8. Cover leftover frosted or unfrosted rolls tightly and store for up to 3 days at room temperature or up to 5 days in the refrigerator. They are best when warmed a bit before serving. Makes 10 to 12 rolls.


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