Brownies may not be the most sophisticated of all pastries. Rarely are brownies exceedingly beautiful, or overly fancied. Truth be told, these treats don’t need to be. I love a good brownie because it provides a healthy dose of chocolate and chewiness in a simple square package. It can be a delicious little piece of nostalgia, and if you’ve only had it from a box mix, you are in for a treat. Denver has some tasty brownies out there (no, I’m not talking about the medicated sort). Here’s where to find the best:
What: Beet Box Bakery & Café
Where: 1030 East 22nd Avenue, Denver
Pros: An all-vegan bakery that makes pastries and bread so good you’d never know it was vegan. Well-balanced, thoughtfully crafted flavors with healthier twists, like the beet brownie.
Cons: Some of the gluten-free pastries taste like, well, gluten-free pastries. That being said, it’s awesome for those with dietary issues that they’re even available.
Located over in the San Rafael neighborhood, you many not even know that Beet Box even exists. Even though they’ve been baking their completely vegan pastries and breads wholesale for almost five years, they’ve only been in their current location since last May. But vegan or not, this is most definitely a place worth seeking out. While many probably assume that vegan pastries consist of healthy fruit and flax muffins, they’d be wrong. A gleaming case brimming with doughnuts, cupcakes, and even croissants tempts both carnivores and vegans alike.
The beet brownie is a gorgeous deep burgundy, naturally colored by the beet puree that replaces about half the sugar in this recipe. Though I considered myself a brownie purist, I absolutely loved this sweet. The beet puree brings out the fruity notes in the chocolate that we don’t usually taste, and with a slightly cakey, rich texture, this healthier brownie is definitely a winner.
The next brownie I tried here was the gluten free turtle brownie, generously topped with nuts and a house-made coconut-milk caramel. This brownie was nice and fudgy and felt very decadent, and despite it being gluten free and vegan the texture and flavor were excellent.
By focusing on the strengths of vegan baking, owners Mike Craig and Blair Ednie have definitely mastered this difficult art. Whole ingredients, including scratch-made organic soymilk and sustainable palm shortening replace cream and butter in these pastries, making them quite a bit lighter than most. While for me that may just be an excuse to eat more of them, it also makes them perfect for friends and family with dietary restrictions. I would recommend bringing just about anybody here.
What: Cake Crumbs Bakery
Where: 2216 Kearney Street, Denver
Pros: Awesome neighborhood hang-out with friendly staff and tasty made-from-scratch pastries, cakes, and breads.
Cons: The desserts can sometimes lack balance, falling into the realm of the overly sweet.
Cake Crumbs, located in Park Hill, is the type of café and bakery that every neighborhood wishes it had. In the mornings, sunlight filters through the windows into the airy space, packed with locals and regulars drinking coffee and enjoying one of the many sweet and savory pastries. While I was certainly tempted by the croissants, I had come for the brownies, rumored by many to be some of the best out there.
The caramel brownie here is so good I didn’t even mind eating it for breakfast. Friendly owner Denon Moore said that this was one of her grandmother’s treasured recipes. It’s baked with glistening ribbons of caramel swirled throughout the batter, keeping it super-moist and incredibly chewy. While I found the regular fudge brownie to be a bit on the sweet side for my liking, I will definitely be back for another caramel brownie, which Moore says never comes off the menu.
What: Wooden Spoon Café and Bakery
Where: 2418 W 32nd Ave, Denver
Pros: Authentic pastries and a wide variety of both French and American desserts are made in house at this hole in the wall café.
Cons: Seating is extremely limited, and this café often runs out of pastries, especially on weekends.
While the pastries at Wooden Spoon might make you feel as though you’ve taken a trip to France, the desserts are a nice mix of both French and American fare. The cream cheese brownie here was probably the most classic out of all that I sampled, with a dense texture and pronounced chocolate and vanilla flavor. The cream cheese swirl added depth and made this marbled brownie extra pretty. This spot in the Highlands would be a great place to meet a friend, but make sure to get there early and don’t bother bringing your laptop. Due to the small space, this cafe enforces a strict no-internet policy in order to keep some tables open.
All photography by Camille Breslin.