Sugar and Spice: Why We Love Desserts in Romance Novels
I think it’s fair to say that dessert and romance are synonymous with each other -- if I asked you to picture a romantic scene, what comes to mind? I’d bet it probably involves a dessert of some kind, from chocolate-covered strawberries to cakes and pastries . It’s no surprise that since I’ve started exploring the world of romance novels, I’ve encountered countless stories revolving around desserts. In these comforting and delightful stories, dessert and romance are a perfect fit, but why? Let’s investigate.
Why do we love these stories?
Dessert themes in romance stories are nothing new; just browse the Hallmark movie catalog and see how many baking-centered romances are churned out every year. There’s something about these “sweet” stories that we’re inherently drawn to. Part of this is that we often associate desserts with comfort and familiarity. For most of us, there’s at least one dessert that evokes some kind of nostalgia or treasured memory, and an indulgent pastry or chocolate has probably acted as a comfort food more than once. Desserts are mostly universally appealing (let’s not talk about that one friend that doesn’t have a sweet tooth). Everyone loves them, and everyone knows something about them, whether it’s from making them or eating them. Adding romance to the mix is a clear winning combination.
On the other hand, there’s also a seductive side to dessert. Think about the allure of a perfect chocolate-covered strawberry, or a smooth, rich caramel. While desserts can capture comfort, they can also be used to elicit an atmosphere that’s irresistibly amorous and just as fascinating to us.
How do desserts work as plot devices?
You probably know the usual suspects for the plot of a dessert-centered romance: a baking competition that brings the main characters together, a customer and employee of a bakery falling in love, etc. These set-ups are cliches, but we, whether we want to admit it, like cliches— wouldn’t come back to them over and over again if we didn’t enjoy them. And indeed, they allow for the use of some beloved tropes and character dynamics: we love an enemies-to-lovers story where two competitors in a baking contest eventually fall in love, or a love-at-first-sight slow burn romance between a bakery employee and their customer.
But mostly, the key to these stories is how the desserts themselves function in the story. They can be how the characters meet. They can be the grand, romantic gesture that brings the character together at the end of the story. They can be the love language that the characters use to express their feelings throughout the story. For me, this is what I love most about these romances – seeing how dessert creates the relationship between the characters.
Some of my favorite dessert romances <3
If you want to do your own exploration of dessert romance novels, here are some of my favorites that hopefully will act as a good starting point. Find them as ebooks or physical books at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library, or purchase on Bookshop.org!
Battle Royal by Lucy Parker: A great enemies-to-lovers romance about two cake makers who judge a The Great British Bake-off-esque show that are competing for the contract to make the cake for the next royal wedding.
The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand: If you didn’t think the process of making chocolate was intimate, you will after this book. This is a whirlwind romance in Paris between a chocolatier and a mysterious woman who starts coming to his shop every day that somehow feels like a slow burn, as the characters start becoming more and more emotionally vulnerable to each other.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: This is a story about two people who are ostensibly roommates but never see each other because they work at opposite times of the day. Unlike the dessert-centric books one of the ways the characters start caring for each other is by making extra food for the other to come home to <3.