Italian cuisine: Calabrian Cuzzupe di Pasqua. Understanding the Power and Beauty of Italian Easter Breads

Mar 16, 2024 1384

Easter breads are highly anticipated in Italy. Easter follows the Lenten fast which used to prohibit the eating of not only meat, but dairy as well. As a result, Easter menus were plentiful in eggs and butter, and easter breads have a coveted brioche-like quality to them.

Regional differences and personal preferences dictate the symbolism of each type of Easter bread. How they are shaped and the addition of extra ingredients such as nuts, liqueur, chocolate, or citrus depends upon regional preferences. 

Calabrian Cuzzupe are one of the most famous regional baked goods which I learned to make from my Nonna Angela. Baking them with her made me realize the powerful symbolism that food holds.

The name Cuzzupe comes from the Greek word koutsouna which means doll. In Sicily, in fact, a similar looking recipe with more of a cookie dough texture is made. There the recipe is called pupa cu l’ova in dialect, which means “doll wih an egg.” Over the years the doll came to represent the image of the Madonna or the image of the baby Jesus in the womb. Cuzzupe are one of the culinary bridges that still binds us with the legacy of Nonna Angela and our family in Italy.

Like many immigrant families of the early 20th century, my family lost contact with relatives in Italy, lost the ability to speak Italian, and unfortunately, many other cultural traditions.  After over 100 years of being separated by the Atlantic Ocean, our Easter bread recipes are among the only things that connect us. I learned this after reconnecting with our relatives and learning to speak Italian. Nowadays, I am the only person on this side of the pond that prepares Cuzzupe, and I’m also the only one who still speaks Italian. This, to me, is the power of recipes. Long after children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of immigrants lose their ability to speak a language and re-enact daily cultural customs, food is still there to transport them back home as well as to keep them connected to their families and roots abroad.  Buona Pasqua a tutti!

This recipe is from Italian Recipes For Dummies by Amy Riolo

Cozzupe di Pasqua/Calabrian Easter Bread





For the Bread:

- 2 dozen hard-boiled eggs, colored, if desired (see Step 1)

- 4 (0.6 ounce) fresh yeast loaves, or 3 (0.6 ounce) packets active dry yeast

- 3 cups lukewarm water

- 5 pounds all-purpose flour

- Zest of 1 orange

- Zest of 1 lemon

- 4 teaspoons salt

- 1/4 cup sugar

- 3 heaping tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing pans

- 6 large eggs, lightly beaten

- 1 3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

For the Icing:

- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

- Juice and zest of 1 orange

- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

- Whole milk, as needed


  1. Prepare hard-boiled eggs, and color them if desired, early on the day you bake the bread or the day before.
  2. For the bread: Combine yeast and water in a medium bowl. Allow to stand for 15 minutes, or until frothy.
  3. Add the flour, orange and lemon zest, salt, and sugar to a large bowl, and stir. Add the butter, eggs, and orange juice. Add the yeast mixture and mix completely to incorporate. Form dough into a ball, and place on a lightly floured work surface.
  4. Knead for 5-10 minutes, or until dough is firm and elastic. Grease a very large bowl with butter, place dough inside, and turn to coat. Cover with greased plastic wrap and clean kitchen towels. Allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Punch dough down with your hands and allow to rise for another hour.
  6. Break off pieces of dough the size of a small tangerine.
  7. Roll each piece into a 6-inch rope. Wrap each rope around an egg. The egg should be covered with a 1-inch border all the way around.
  8. Break off another small piece of dough to form a ribbon around the base of the egg (forming a barrier between the bread and the egg) and cross the ends over one another.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place rolls on a cookie sheet and allow to rise until doubled in size. Bake 20-30 minutes until golden brown.
  10. For the icing: Make the icing by combining the confectioners' sugar with the orange juice and vanilla.
  11. Whisk in milk, a few tablespoons at a time, until a smooth, shiny glaze forms. Set aside. While breads are still slightly warm, brush with glaze and allow to dry. Serve individually at breakfast or as edible centerpieces or place holders on Easter. These are also taken on picnics and eaten with cheese, cured meats, and wine on la Pasquetta (Easter Monday).


When making this recipe, I always color the eggs the day before and prep all the ingredients the night before baking.

If you’d like to pair this dessert with wine, look for Mantonico passito or similar.


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