I've always found cake to be a culinary curiosity. It's one of those foods we often tend to value more for the way it looks than the flavor beneath the frosting.
A lot of the offices in which I've worked buy cakes to mark people's birthdays. In my experience, these cakes usually come from a supermarket.
Everyone gathers 'round to sing "happy birthday" and then someone cuts up a generic marble cake with frosting that tastes like vegetable shortening mixed with sugar.
I guess I should keep in mind that it's the thought that counts, but I must admit that when faced when one of those unhappy confections, I always find myself taking a square of it to be polite and then looking for an inconspicuous trash bin so I can politely ditch it when nobody's looking.
Thankfully, at my current office my department is made up of a pretty tight-knit group, so we're able to personalize the birthday cake experience. We really try to jointly come up with something that reflects the recipient's personality and/or sense of humor, and then someone volunteers to do the baking and frosting.
For the sake of inspiration, I thought I'd share some of the extremely personalized cakes our team produced this year.
For the athlete: The East German Olympic Swimmer Cake
For the prankster: The Chocolate-Marshmallow Catbox Cake
For the beer lover/Simpsons fan: The Duff Beer Cake
For the bacon devotee: The Chocolate Bacon Cake
For yours truly: The Miss Ginsu Cake
For the Flight of the Conchords groupie: The Bret & Jemaine Cake (with coordinating flipside, of course)
For the Coney Island girl: The Crazy Classic Coney Cake
And there's a few more that I failed to photograph with any skill, but what I've discovered in this whole process is:
1. It's less expensive (and more satisfying) to do a cake from scratch (or even a box mix) than it is to buy a far less tasty one from the grocery store.
2. Homemade means never having to discreetly fling a slice of cake in the wastebasket.
That said, it's only worth the effort if you actually know and like your co-workers. :)