You're planning a birthday party for a special friend, but unfortunately, you have a tight budget and need to prioritize your expenses. Should you serve a full dinner? Should it be just appetizers and dessert? Can you afford mixed drinks or just soft drinks? How about balloons, flowers, presents or party favors? Before you go any further, let's get one thing straight. It's not a birthday party without the cake and candles!
A birthday cake must be on the top of your party priority list. I don't care whether the guest of honor is on a low fat, no sugar, all protein, or macrobiotic diet. Use your creativity and come up with something that will serve as a cake. If it has to be a tofu and seaweed combination, so be it. Although chocolate layer cake with mousse and ganache would be more to my taste.
Now that we have our priorities in order, the next question should be what kind of cake you will serve at this party. If you know the birthday boy or girl has a favorite type of cake, then this is an easy decision. After all, you want to please the guest of honor. You can't go wrong with this choice, and most guests will gladly eat any piece of cake you put in front of them (unless they have an allergy or diet problem). And if you have to accommodate the health or other dietary preferences of the birthday honoree with a tofu/seaweed cake, all guests should quietly suffer along, take one bite and then politely abandon their cake for another activity.
If you are unaware of any particular preference, then I would go for the most festive cake you can imagine. For a child's birthday party it's easy to use a plain sheet cake and just put a picture representing the birthday theme on it, such as Cinderella for a princess party theme. But for an adult, the cake itself should be something out of the ordinary, not the typical confection you might find in your office cafeteria. You could go with a seasonal choice, if appropriate, such as a layer cake with fresh strawberry filling in the summer or pumpkin cheesecake in the fall. Dress it up with frosted balloons, flowers, or other fun decorations. Or go with something more exotic such as a Macadamia Coconut Cake. If you have the time and love to bake, go all out and bake a Triple-Chocolate Celebration Cake made with chocolate cake, chocolate frosting, ganache, jam and berries. I doubt that anyone I know would attempt this cake, but if they did I'd be eternally appreciative! Whatever you choose, be sure it proclaims loud and clear how wonderful you consider your friend.
You will also need to decide whether to bake or buy the cake. In my opinion, if you have any baking talent, you should bake the cake. There is nothing more special than knowing someone baked a cake just to honor you. Do the best job you can, use a mix if necessary and purchase cake decorations if you're not handy with a pastry bag and decorating tips. Then fill your home with the loving aroma of a home-baked confection. However, if you find that even cake mixes come out of your oven like bricks, turn to the best baker you can afford and purchase the cake instead.
Finally, don't forget the candles and the birthday song - the more off-key, the better!