Throughout my years of attending birthdays, I will posit that all cakes can fit safely and neatly into a few general categories:
1. Oh, It’s Birthday Cake
It’s the type of cake with frosting and scripty lettering, decadent flowers and artistic flourishes. The cake itself is either brown or yellow, but that’s not to say chocolate and vanilla because the taste is either too rich and sweet, or else altogether bland and boring; the texture is chalk-dry and yet greasy. There are too many air bubbles, making it feel like you’re eating frosting floating in the clouds, or on a layer of soap, usually depending on how much you like the birthday boy/girl.
2. Wait, Hold On, That’s Actually Good
Then there’s the type of cake (usually homemade) that the first obligatory nibble becomes something of a moment of pleasant discovery: that it is in fact really tasty. You might find yourself going back for a second piece, which in itself is remarkable, because you had been going strong on your diet for three months. What isn’t remarkable is how you stash the second piece on the festive-print paper plate, hidden under a matching (and quite useless, you’ll agree) napkin in a corner of the room. Then you go for thirds. Because, you, know, the other piece dropped or something. You can justify this sort of behavior because the second (or is it the third?) piece is actually being saved for a friend.
3. What Were You Thinking Cake*
A well-deserving third category, this is the sort of cake that demands an entirely different response than polite acceptance/decline, or feverish stashing. The first reaction is, “What were you thinking?”
I’m talking carrot cake. Strawberry jelly stuff that jiggles, and causes lightheadedness upon eating. Paleo brownies that taste like tar. ‘Slightly burnt’ granola-oatmeal concoctions that require a chisel and a skilled foreigner to extract the edible portions. The sorts of things that cause others to talk softly to you and offer cryptic recommendations for homeopathic remedies, telling you it’ll really ease the stress — whatever that’s supposed to mean — and they line up for thirds with sympathetic eyes even though they’re strict carnivores and shouldn’t be eating anything vegetarian but they just can’t resist one more bite.