just a reminder that the weekly shiur is on various topics not always related to parshat hashavua and don’t bother looking for a connection to the parsha as there isn’t}
Last week, at lunch in the Midrasha, croutons were served as part of the salad selections. The question was posed as to the proper bracha to be said on croutons.
The first thing that we must do is determine what is a crouton and how it is made. As I understand it the process is to take regular bread, cut it up into small cubes, bake in order to dry it out, add oil and saut? (For details see your local cookbook, this particular recipe is from “The Pleasures of your Processor” By Norene Gillettz page 183).
The first point to note is that we start off with standard bread, which is significant, in that we are not talking about similar issues that are involved with the pseudo bread issues such as pizza and pastries. In those cases the issue is what is considered a bread, to which Halacha tells us that any baked dough like substance which functions as the mainstay of a meal is considered bread and therefore carries with it the requirements of netilat yadayim and Birkat Ha’mazon. The main issue on those types of food is to determine how to judge the mainstay of the meal [see Shulchan Aruch OC 168:6-8].
In the case of croutons this problem is solved for us, as we are dealing with real bread, baked as such, which by definition is always considered as the mainstay of a meal and requires netilat yadayim and Birkat Ha’mazon.
The questions in our case are two fold firstly does the subsequent saut?ing change the halachic status of the bread and does the small amount usually eaten effect the issue.
As far as the saut?ing is concerned we must see the Shulchan Aruch OC 168:10 where we are told that pieces of bread that have been processed under different circumstances have different Halachot associated with them. There are three different scenerios:
1. In a case where the bread has been boiled the Halacha is that if they are still a kezayit they are considered bread and if not they are now mezonot, regardless if they still look like bread or not (i.e. Kneladlach are mezonot and French toast is hamotzee).
2. However if the pieces were not cooked but rather just mixed with other materials they are considered bread if they either are the size of at least a kezayit or they look like bread (ie. chocolate covered Matza is hamotzee).
3. Bread crumbs themselves, that have been neither cooked nor mixed with other materials, are still hamotzee.
In the case of the crouton the situation is slightly more complicated as the process is frying, which in many areas of Halacha is in a gray area between boiling and simply mixing. (For instance the rules of “kashering” frying pans are complicated due to this distinction as well as issues concerning the re-warming of fried foods on Shabbat and certain aspects of meat and milk Halachot).
The Magen Avraham and the Hazon Ish are of the opinion that the frying is not similar to boiling in this case and therefore the bracha would remain hamotzee, as the croutons despite their small volume, retain an appearance of bread. The Mishna Brurah on the other hand is not so sure about the issue and therefore suggests that they be eaten only within the framework of a meal that has been started with real bread in order to avoid the dilemma.
If we are to take the position of the Mishna Brurah, then we basically have no further issues to discuss; as we will already be eating a meal in which almost all items have been exempted from a bracha rishona by the bracha on the bread and will be exempted from a bracha achrona by Birkat Ha’mazon.
If , however we are to adopt the position of the Magen Avraham and the Hazon Ish then we must continue to ask does the size of the croutons, or rather the amount of croutons that are going to be eaten effect our discussion.
For an answer to this question we must distinguish between three different issues: Bracha Rishona- Hamotzee, Bracha Achrona- Birkat Hamzon and Netilat yadayim.
Concerning the Hamotzee the Shulchan Aruch (OC 168:9) tells us that even the smallest amount of bread requires a hamotzee. This is based on the principle that one may not derive any pleasure form this world without a bracha and in this case the bracha of hamotzee is the correct bracha.
When it comes to Birkat Ha’mazon a minimum shiur is required to be able to recite the bracha, in this case the shiur is a kezayit. In the event that one ate bread, but less than a kezayit no bracha achrona is to be said.
The requirement of Netilat yadayim in its full sense is only if one eats a kebetzah (double a kezayit), only then may one recite the bracha over Netilat yadayim. If one is eating less than a kebiatzah the Mishna brurah rules that one should wash ones hands however one should not recite a bracha (see OC 158:2-3).
The best solution for the question of what bracha to make on croutons, is to first wash and eat real bread and at the end of the meal say Birkat Ha’mazon thereby avoiding the problem. If this is not feasible the proper procedure is to wash, to say a bracha on the washing only if a kebiatzah will be eaten, in any event say Birkat hamotzee and at the end if a kezayit has been eaten to say Birkat Ha’mazon. If a kezayit has not been eaten the croutons do not require a bracha Acheron, of course whatever was being eaten with them would if the minimum shiur was satisfied in their case.
[ For easy reference a kezayit is approximately the volume of a small, black 35mm film canister and a kebiatzah is double that.]