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
This first category is basically the industry standard. It’s the type of cake with frosting and scripty lettering; the icing forms decadent flowers and artistic flourishes. At its core, the cake itself is either brown or yellow, but that’s not to say chocolate or vanilla because the taste is either too rich and sweet, or else completely bland; the texture is chalk-dry and yet greasy. There are too many air bubbles, making it feel like you’re eating chemical frosting floating in the clouds, or a layer of soap, that description dependant on how much you like the birthday boy/girl. It’s standard birthday cake, and it sucks.
#2 — Wait, Hold On, That’s Actually Good Cake
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 stuff. 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. You’ll scoop that piece onto the festive-print paper plate, hidden under a matching (and quite useless, you’ll agree) napkin, intending to eat it later, slowly. But shock has numbed your impulse control. Then you go for thirds. If anyone asks, you’re ready to tell them that you’re taking this additional piece for a friend. In a way, you are.
#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 frenzy. The first reaction is, “What were you thinking?”
I’m talking carrot cake. Strawberry jelly stuff that jiggles and causes instant lightheadedness from the sugar rush. 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 creations that cause people to talk softly to the creator and offer cryptic recommendations for homeopathic remedies, saying 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.