10. Three Mezonot Categories
How bread differs from cake, and how cake differs from pasta.
In the previous class we began learning about the bracha "mezonot." Today we continue along the same subject, exploring the topic of baked goods and their respective brachot.
As we mentioned earlier, since grains that are processed and cooked (or baked) become a satiating dish, they receive the bracha Mezonot. When these same grains1 are ground into flour, made into a dough or batter, and then baked, they attain an even higher status of food: bread or cake.
In terms of brachot, baked goods are divided into three categories. It will be helpful for us to learn a few Hebrew terms:
Category 1 – Bread is defined as a baked dough, consisting primarily of flour and water. It has a loaf-like and dry texture.
Category 2 – Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin (the first word is often pronounced Pas) is a baked dough that does not quite resemble bread, and is generally eaten as a snack. Examples are cake and crackers.
Category 3 – Ma'aseh Kedeira is made from grains that were cooked and have a moist texture, like spaghetti and oatmeal.
We will now explain each of these categories in detail, and learn the correct bracha to say.
Category 1 – Bread
In the last class we learned that the bracha Mezonot was prescribed for foods that are filling and nutritious.2 Due to the significant level of sustenance that they provide, these foods are considered more important than other foods like fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, drinks and sweets (but try telling that to your kids!).
There is one food – bread – that is considered even more important than Mezonot, because it is the staple of every meal and the most essential of all foods. The Sages therefore formulated a special bracha for bread: Hamotzee lechem min ha'aretz – "Who brings forth bread from the ground."3
So whether it's a bagel, pita, rye bread or hot dog bun, the bracha is Hamotzee.
Before we move on to discuss the other two categories of baked good, let's learn a special halacha that pertains to bread. In addition to the unique bracha formulated for bread (Hamotzee), the Sages also required washing one's hands before eating bread. This hand-washing is known as Netilat Yadayim, and is required whenever Hamotzee is recited.4
Here's the easy 10-step guide:
- Remove any rings from your fingers.5
- Fill a vessel with at least 5 ounces of water.6
- Raise the cup with your right hand, then pass it to your left hand.7
- Pour water twice over the right hand, getting every area of the hand wet on both sides from the wrist down.8
- Pass the cup to your right hand, and pour water twice over your left hand.9
- Hold your hands upward, so the water drips toward the wrist and not the fingers.10
- Recite the blessing, "Al Netilat Yadayim."11
- Dry your hands on a towel.12
- Without making any interruption, hold the bread with all 10 fingers, raise it slightly, and recite the blessing Hamotzee.13
- Dip the bread in salt,14 and eat!
And here is the text for Netilat Yadayim:
Listen to the audio pronunciation of this bracha:
Now, let's continue with the other two categories of baked goods.
Category 2 – Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin
The second category of grain foods is called Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin.
These foods differ from "bread" in that:
- you would typically not use it to make a sandwich
- you would typically not eat it with meat or fish
- it is usually eaten as a snack or dessert, not eaten as a full meal15
Now let's get more technical. There are three specific characteristics which define a grain food as Pat Haba B'Kisni, and not as "bread":16
Type A – Sweet Dough: The main ingredients in bread are flour and water. When other ingredients are added (e.g. eggs, sugar, honey, cocoa, fruit juice), the result is a sweeter tasting pastry – what we typically call "cake."
When does "bread" become "cake"? If the volume of ingredients added to the dough is more than the volume of water, and the resulting pastry has a sweet taste like cake, then it is considered cake and not bread.17
Walk into any bakery and you'll see lots of examples of this: cupcakes, coffee cake, honey cake and croissants. (And if you're on a diet, remember that smelling is calorie-free!)
Type B – Filled Dough: Bread is usually not filled with any added ingredients. So a pastry or a pie that is baked with a filling is not considered bread, and their bracha is Mezonot. The filling must be significant enough to change the taste of the pastry.18
This includes things like blintzes, cheese Danish, a hot dog wrapped in filo dough, borekas, apple pie, or any dough filled with chocolate, nuts, cherry filling, potato, meat,19 etc.
What would be the bracha on raisin bread? Let's consider whether it fits the definition we mentioned above – would you use it to make a sandwich, eat it with meat or fish, or eat it as a full meal? Well, that depends. If there are only a few raisins in the bread, then the bracha would be Hamotzee. But if there are lots of raisins packed into the bread, the bracha is Mezonot.20
Type C – Thin and Crispy: Bread is usually soft and has mass. Thin, brittle baked goods, on the other hand, are generally eaten as a snack. Therefore, foods like crackers, pretzels and breadsticks, are not considered bread, and the bracha is Mezonot.21
Here's another case to consider: What if you had a nice piece of apple pie, and decided to eat only the crust? Although this crust is no longer "filled," but since it was originally baked with the filling, the bracha is still Mezonot.22
To summarize the rule: Baked goods that are any one of these three types – tasty dough, filled, or thin and crispy – are not considered bread. Rather, they are Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin, whose bracha is Mezonot.
A bit of foreshadowing to our next lesson: There are certain situations where the bracha on Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin will not be Mezonot, but rather Hamotzee. Stay tuned for details.
Category 3 – Ma'aseh Kedeira
Until now we've been speaking about grain foods that are baked. If, however, the dough is not baked, but is cooked, the resulting food does not resemble bread at all. Bread has a loaf-like and dry texture; Ma'aseh Kedeira does not. Therefore it is considered neither bread nor Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin, and bracha is always Mezonot. The term for such foods is Ma'aseh Kedeira, and examples include:
- matzah balls25
What about something that is fried, like a pancake? In this case, it depends how much oil is used: If the pancakes are deep-fried,26 that is akin to "cooking" and the pancakes are Category 3 – Ma'aseh Kedeira. Whereas if the pancakes are fried in just a bit of oil (i.e. to keep them from burning), then they are considered "baked" and in Category 2 – Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin.27 (This distinction is important in terms of whether the pancakes will be subject to the occasional exception where the bracha will be Hamotzee, as we'll discuss in the next class.)
A few more applications of these rules:
- Donuts – since they are deep-fried, they are Category 3 – Ma'aseh Kedeira, with the bracha Mezonot.28
- Bagels – although they are cooked, they are subsequently baked, and the bracha is therefore Hamotzee.29
- French Toast – this is regular bread which is fried in only a bit of oil, so the bracha remains Hamotzee.30
There is another grain food which although baked and not cooked is included in this category. Foods made with very thin, soft dough, such as blintzes, are the equivalent of Ma'aseh Kedeira and are never considered the equivalent of bread since they could never take the place of bread in a meal.31 Many authorities consider wafers to likewise be an example of this.32
This concludes class #10 on Hilchot Brachot. In the next lesson, we will learn about the "Big Exception" to the rule about saying Mezonot on baked goods.
- This rule does not apply to rice, since rice is not considered as important as the five grains. The bracha on rice bread is mezonot (Orach Chaim 208:7, with Mishnah Berurah 28, 29).
- See Biur Halacha 208:8 that Mezonot is valid if said on any satiating food.
- Orach Chaim 167:2. When eating less than a kezayit (approximately half a slice) of bread, you should wash your hands, but without saying the blessing Netilat Yadayim; then say Hamotzee.
- Orach Chaim 158:1; Mishnah Berurah 168:25
- Orach Chaim 161:3
- Orach Chaim 158:10, with Mishnah Berurah 37
- Beit Yosef (OC 4); Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 2:3
- Orach Chaim 162:1-2
- Orach Chaim 162:1-2; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 40:4
- Orach Chaim 162:1
- Orach Chaim 158:11
- Orach Chaim 158:12
- Orach Chaim 167:3-4, with Mishnah Berurah 23
- Orach Chaim 167:5, with Rema. The bread is dipped in salt to recall the Temple offerings which were always salted (Leviticus 2:13); our eating with the right intentions and hosting guests at our table invokes a similar merit (Mishnah Berurah 167:30, 231:5).
- Mishnah Berurah 168:23; The Laws of Brachos, pg. 234
- Orach Chaim 168:7
- Rema, as explained by Mishnah Berurah 168:33. According to Sephardic tradition, as long as the sweetness is detectable, the bracha is Mezonot (Orach Chaim 168:7).
- Mishnah Berurah 168:33
- See Orach Chaim 168:17, with Mishnah Berurah, that meat-filled pastries that are made as a snack are Mezonot. If they are large and meant as a meal, however, then they are like bread and require Hamotzee, even if a small amount is eaten (unless they are made with sweet dough).
- Laws of Brachos, pg. 234, citing Pri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 168:7)
- Mishnah Berurah 168:27
- Mishnah Berurah 168:35, 36. We’ll discuss the exception of matzah in our next class.
- Rema – Orach Chaim 168:13
- Orach Chaim 208:2
- Mishnah Berurah 168:59
- Rema – Orach Chaim 168:14, with Mishnah Berurah 87
- V’Zot HaBracha, ch.4, footnote 20; see also Halachos of Brochos, pp. 492-493
- There is a difference of opinion how to categorize donuts; see Orach Chaim 168:13, with Mishnah Berurah, and Rema 168:17.
- V’Zot HaBracha, pg.372:4; Chazon Ish (OC 26:9)
- Mishnah Berurah 168:56
- Mishnah Berurah 168:38, V'Zot HaBracha p. 28 with footnote 21. See there that this would not apply to blintzes made from thicker dough.
- V'Zot HaBracha ibid. with footnote 22.