I teach a children's Bible class at my church. For each child's birthday, they get to choose a giant cookie, cupcakes, or cake. The most recent birthday boy went back and forth between cupcakes and cake before finally settling on a cake.
This was very easy to make. I used a soccer ball pan and my favorite birthday cake icing. I tinted a bit red and piped on the stitches. I am not the best at smoothing out the icing, but he was happy with it. The cake gets shared at snack time, and the birthday boy took home the leftovers.
I think it is more special than buying a generic gift and certainly more affordable. They all seem to love homemade treats.