Recipe: Pain de Pâques, Neuchâtel’s Easter Bread

My homemade Pain de Pâques (recipe below).

Ticino has the Colomba di Pasqua, and many of the Swiss-German and Swiss-French cantons have a braided Zopf/Tresse on the table at Easter time, but what about the canton of Neuchâtel? It also has a special bread for this holiday season, known as Pain de Pâques (Easter bread).

In Neuchâtel, the dough for making this Easter bread is nearly identical, if not exactly the same, as the dough for a loaf of Zopf /Tresse. Instead of braiding the dough, this bread takes a rounded form, resembling an oval—or more appropriate to the season, an egg. After lightly brushing the loaf with a beaten egg to give it a golden brown color, a deep slash mark is made across the top. The result? A loaf with a rich, butter flavor and a slightly tighter crumb than a typical Zopf/Tresse.

A professionally-baked Pain de Pâques from Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Mäder in Neuchâtel.

In the 1960s, bakers in Neuchâtel first started making Pain de Pâques for a very practical reason—they take less time to shape than a braided Zopf / Tresse. Over the years, these loaves have remained popular at Easter.

Make Pain de Pâques at Home

While typically made at a bakery, here’s a recipe if you want to try making this Swiss bread at home.

INGREDIENTS

Poolish:
– 1 g fresh yeast
– 100 ml water, cold
– 100 g white flour

Dough:
– 400 g white flour
– 15 g sugar
– 9 g salt
– 50 g unsalted butter, softened
– 9 g fresh yeast, crumbled
– 200 ml milk, lukewarm

Brush on before baking:
1 egg, beaten

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare the poolish. In a bowl, dissolve the fresh yeast in the cold water. Then, stir in the flour to make a wet, thick batter. Cover the bowl (with a plate, for example), and let it sit at room temperature for about 15-18 hours.
  2. When the poolish is ready, make the dough. In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together: flour, sugar and salt. Add the softened butter in pieces. Then, make a well in the center of the mixture and add the poolish. Set aside.
  3. Separately, add the fresh yeast to the lukewarm milk. Let it sit for a few minutes and then stir until the yeast has completely dissolved. Pour this mixture into the center of the large bowl with the flour mixture. Stir until a dough forms.
  4. Knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface for about 10 minutes, or use an electric mixer with a dough hook, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. 
  5. Place the dough in a bowl, cover it with a damp kitchen towel, and let it rise at room temperature for about 1-2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
  6. Punch down the dough and form it into an oval shape. Place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover it with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
  7. After the dough has finished its final rest, whisk an egg until well-combined and brush it on the surface of the dough. Use a sharp knife to make a deep slash mark across the mid-section.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 200°C/400°F until the surface turns golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Happy Easter / Frohe Ostern / Joyeuses Pâques / Buona Pasqua

Updated March 24, 2021

9 replies »

  1. Hi from a Swiss residing in the U.K., who has just discovered this fab page, full of recipes from my beloved Switzerland. Do you by any chance have a tried and tested tresse recipe you would be willing to share? Failing that, I shall try to make one with this recipe. Thank you

      • Hi Heddi and thank you for the helpful reply; I shall look into both. Interestingly, I made some petits pains au lait at the weekend and most recipes I found called for a part of light spelt flour (farine d’épautre claire) but I only had regular spelt flour – could I have used that? I eventually remembered I have my old school cookery book, which contains a lot of traditional Swiss bread recipes and I made some delicious and nostalgic petits pains, using just regular bread flour. Thank you also for the great content on history and tradition on your site as my Mother was born in the Fribourg region and we grew up visiting her family at Bénichon time, eating things like cuchaule, moutarde de Bénichon etc. She will be delighted if I can replicate some of these dishes on a future visit to Switzerland as she is now unable to travel to her birth Canton. All the best

      • Thanks again for your nice messages, Nathalie! I’m glad you found a recipe for Petits pains au lait that worked for you! I make these with some whole wheat flour. You can substitute light for regular spelt flour, you just may need to adjust the liquid amount (perhaps adding a bit more?). And, Cuchaule is one of my favorite Swiss breads – although I have many favorites. 😉 Best wishes, and happy baking!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.