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Are doughnuts the new cupcake? Asking that question of various D.C.-area fried-dough aficionados for this week’s Young & Hungry column tended to lead to a more Clintonian discussion: how do you define a doughnut?

A cupcake is a cupcake. It’s small. It’s muffin-shaped. It sometimes has sprinkles. Doughnuts come in all shapes and sizes and go by all sorts of names, from European-style zeppoles and bombolini to North American bear claws and beaver tails.

Recently, I sat down with Joe Raffa, head chef at Oyamel, who serves up traditional churros, sometimes described as the Mexican doughnut, during weekend brunches. I asked him, “Is a churro a doughnut?”

“Define ‘doughnut’,” Raffa says. “Is a ‘doughnut’ fried dough? Then, probably, yes. In some form. It is not a traditional doughnut. It doesn’t have a hole. It’s not round. It’s a stick. But it’s fried dough.”

Raffa creates his crispy churros de San Angel con chocolate caliente, priced at $8 per plate, using handmade dough put through a pastry bag with a star tip. (“Our churro gun broke on Sunday,” he says. “It looks like a ginormous caulk gun. You open up the tube, you get the churro dough in there, and close it back up and press it like a caulk gun and it shoots [the dough] out into the [fryer] oil.”)

The freshly fried dough sticks are then coated in sugar and Mexican cinnamon. By which, he means ceylon. That’s the “papery cinnamon,” Raffa notes, “not the really thick stuff like we eat in the United States, which is cassia. This is has a richer flavor. Not as spicy.”

The sugary spiced sticks come served with a side of foamy dip, almost like a pudding, made from authentic Oaxacan chocolate imported from Mexico.

While he devotes more attention to wrangling with this south-of-the-border style of fried dough, cranking out around 40 to 50 orders during an average brunch service, Raffa admits he still has a soft spot for the traditional American version.

“I love Krispy Kreme,” he says. “When my wife and I are driving by the one in Alexandra, if the ‘hot now’ sign isn’t on, we don’t bother. When it’s ‘hot now,’ you’re causing an accident to get into the parking lot.”

Photo by Alpha/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.