Magic and food are two of the most tantalizing ingredients in fiction. Whether the magic is in the food, performed by the baker, or takes some other form, it’s a surefire recipe for a compelling read.
When people start talking about magical food, they tend to refer to a select few amazing — but dated — works. Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate is a fave (and for good reason!), despite the fact that it was originally published over three decades ago. Slightly newer (but still from the previous millennium) is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Mistress of Spices.
It’s no wonder that readers continue to return to books like Esquivel’s and Divakaruni’s. After all, they were good when they came out and they’re still good today! But in the decades since their publication, there has been a lot of new work in the realm of magical food fiction.
Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells (along with its sequel, First Frost) and Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake are two that come to mind readily. But even those were published over a decade ago, so in the spirit of offering you some freshly baked magical food fiction, I’ve compiled a list that should whet your appetite for more recent books.
I’ve divided the list into adult and young adult reads, but within each list, there’s a tremendous amount of variation. Some of these books are humorous, others are romantic, and still others are somewhat scary. Let this list be a menu of magical morsels for you to choose from. I hope you find a little something to nibble on!
Adult Magical Baking Fiction
A Taste of Sage by Yaffa S. Santos
A Taste of Sage is interesting for the way it spices up a now-familiar magical food trope. Instead of the protagonist filling their baked creations with emotions or spells for the eater to experience, Lumi Santana can get a taste of someone else’s emotions when she eats their food. This results in a wild ride when Lumi has to close the doors of her own Dominican fusion restaurant and go to work for volatile renowned chef Julien Dax. It’s a fun read, for sure!
Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies by Misha Popp
“The first time I killed a man with a pie, it was an accident.” So begins Misha Popp’s cozy mystery Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies. Unlike other magical bakers, who often imbue their baked goods with love, Daisy Ellery bakes vengeance right into her pies! This feminist fatale delivers her deadly desserts to men who deserve some consequences for maltreating the women in their lives. Her mobile bakery (Pies Before Guys, lol) comes under threat by a letter-writing blackmailer, and Daisy has to solve that mystery before it puts her out of business.
Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
When Natalie Tan’s estranged mother dies, Natalie returns home. But Chinatown isn’t the same place it was when she left it: local businesses are suffering and gentrification is driving her old neighbors out. On top of that, the talented young cook learns that with her mother’s death, she’s inherited her grandmother’s (long defunct) restaurant. The local fortuneteller tells her she has to cook three of her grandmother’s recipes to (magically) help her neighbors in order for her restaurant to succeed…but she’s missing some essential pages from the family cookbook. Oh, and I should mention there’s an unexpected romance happening alongside all of this!
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
This isn’t the Hansel and Gretel story you might have encountered as a kid, that’s for sure. It’s the story of Harriet Lee and her imperiled daughter, Perdita. Harriet’s famous gingerbread isn’t magical…but when Perdita adds a secret ingredient, it puts her on death’s doorstep. Harriet is forced to tell her daughter the story of how she left Druhástrana — the land of her birth, which is widely believed not to exist. In typical Oyeyemi form (i.e. storytelling brilliance), we get to meet Gretel Kercheval, learn about Harriet’s troubled past, and glimpse an entirely new version of the original tale’s witch in the woods.
The Magical Bakery Mystery Series by Bailey Cates
If you like a good cozy mystery and want a series that combines food and magic, I’ve got you covered! Spirits and Sourdough is the 10th book (so far) in The Magical Bakery Mystery Series. The series follows Katie Lightfoot, a bakery owner (and witch, of course) in Savannah, Georgia. In addition to imbuing her baked goods with little charms and spells, Katie uses her powers to help her solve the mysteries she always seems to find herself embroiled in. In Spirits and Sourdough, she takes a ghost tour and discovers that the ghost of a recently-murdered woman is following her. Not only that, but she met the woman right before her death! As she works to figure out who the murderer is, Katie also has a family mystery to get to the bottom of.
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger
I couldn’t resist throwing Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge into the mix. It’s not about baking, it’s about mixing. Or, rather, mixology. That’s right, this one’s about magical cocktails! Different spirits offer different superpowers (like telekinesis, for one)…which protagonist Bailey Chen desperately needs, because it turns out monsters are real and she’s gonna have to fight them. With a string of violent deaths plaguing the community, Bailey has to balance her aspirations toward young professionalhood with her obligations fighting evil.
Young Adult & Middle Grade Magical Baking Fiction
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
Like Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, this one is about drinks rather than baking. This time, it’s the act of steeping tea. A Magic Steeped in Poison is the first book in a YA fantasy duology. Set in a fantastical kingdom where tea has magical healing powers, protagonist Ning is in trouble. She brewed a poison tea that killed her own mother, and now her only hope of saving her sister is to enter a tea-making competition so she can win a favor from the princess. Unfortunately for Ning, the competition turns out to be event filled with treachery, backstabbing, and other unpleasant surprises.
The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta
It’s bad enough getting dumped…but then Syd’s breakup brownies cause a domino effect of breakups in Austin’s queer community. The extra bad news: bakery owners Vin and Alec end up breaking up, too, and now the Proud Muffin is in danger of closing. With the help of Harley, Syd has to find a way to bake some more magic to mend the damage before it’s too late. In addition to the compelling story and lovable characters, Capetta’s book delivers a scrumptious and magical queer romance.
Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
Also set in Texas, the 3-book Love Sugar Magic series follows Leonora “Leo” Logroño, whose family owns the Amor y Azúcar Panadería (the local fave). In A Dash of Trouble (book 1), Leo makes a big discovery: the women in her family are brujas and they put their magic into their baked goods! But when her family insists she’s too young to be involved, Leo decides to use magic to help her best friend solve a problem and things don’t quite go as planned. If you love this one, you’ll be happy to know there are two more books in the series!
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
How can you not want to read a book starring a wizard with a sourdough starter for a familiar?! Mona’s magic isn’t flashy or exciting. In fact, it only works on bread. It’s enough for her to get by baking magical treats in her aunt’s bakery, but what’s she supposed to do when she’s confronted with a dead body in the bakery? And it’s not just that one body — magical folk are being targeted all around the city. Mona’s powers are put to the test in this endearing and interesting fantasy novel.
A Taste of Magic by J. Elle
How cool would it be to find out you’re a witch, that you get to have magic lessons every Saturday at the local magic academy, and that you get a wand made to match your hair’s curl pattern? That’s exactly what happens to Kyana Turner…but then the magic academy is in danger of shutting down for lack of funding. Just when Kyana feels like she’s found her place, too! So she decides to use her magic and her memaw’s recipes to win the cash prize in a baking competition. There’s a lot for Kyana to juggle, and the competition isn’t free from trouble! Note: This title is scheduled to be released on August 30, 2022.
Hungry for more?
Sample from this list of LGBTQIA+ magical realism or take a bite out of this list of books that pair food and romance. Alternately, test out some of the readerly delights on this list of 100 books featuring food in fiction. You might find the first section, “Food as Magic,” especially delectable!