How many birthdays do you have a year? That's right, just one, for better or for worse. And doesn't everybody want to celebrate, or at least take the sting out of growing a year older, with a mighty, layered cake? Even kids, accustomed to schoolroom birthday cupcakes or sheet cakes, know that a filled, stacked and frosted birthday cake, by its very nature, is indulgent and special. And what about your spouse or partner? Sure, you can make one out of a box of cake mix, or call your favorite bakery, but if you spend a little time with these cake recipes your loved one will really have a happy birthday.

A layered birthday cake is an American tradition. It should be tender, buttery and covered in frosting, the end result of baking a basic "creamed" cake batter in two pans and assembling the layers with a frosting (or icing). You can put together a filling for binding the layers that is creamy and thick, or bright and tangy, a different texture and flavor from the frosting on top. This adds a fabulous dimension and actually bolsters the moistness of the cake.

The birthday cake of my childhood was a frenzy of coconut bound in a golden batter and baked in a two-part, lamb-shaped metal mold. The assembled lamb was decked out in lots of vanilla frosting, with jelly beans for eyes and a neck garland of more jelly beans and artfully piped tassels of frosting. A woolly covering of flaked coconut finished off the cake. Every few years, a mold in the shape of a bunny was used in place of the lamb. With a nod to both sentiment and an unswerving passion for chocolate, I now bake two cakes--one coconut, and one ultra-chocolate (and occasionally some delirious combination of the two)--for my winter birthday.

Chocolate Birthday Cake

(12 to 14 servings as a 2-layer cake)

These moist chocolate layers snuggle inside a creamy chocolate frosting.

Butter and all-purpose flour for the pans

2 1/2 cups unsifted bleached cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder

11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 2/3 cups superfine sugar

2 large eggs

2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

1 cup milk

Chocolate Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with wax paper cut to fit and butter the paper. Dust the inside of each pan with flour; tap out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter for 3 minutes. Add the sugar in 2 additions, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Blend in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low, add the chocolate and beat slowly until the batter is evenly colored. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk in a total of 5 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven until the cakes are set and a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, peel away the wax paper and turn right-side up to cool completely.

Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate and spread the top with the Chocolate Frosting. Carefully position the second layer on top and frost the sides and top. Let the cake stand for 1 hour before serving.

Per serving (based on 14): 558 calories, 5 gm protein, 77 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 78 mg cholesterol, 17 gm saturated fat, 265 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Chocolate Frosting

(Makes about 4 1/4 cups)

Creamy, and, of course, dreamy.

4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

7 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature

In a large bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, salt, chocolate, milk and vanilla. Add the butter and, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until very smooth, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Use immediately.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 102 calories, 1 gm protein, 15 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 11 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Lemon Birthday Cake

(10 servings as a 3-layer cake )

A sweet-tart lemon filling holds together 3 layers of light white cake charged with lemon peel and lemon extract, all covered in a mellow lemon frosting.

Butter and all-purpose flour for the pans

3 cups sifted bleached cake flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

13 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons solid shortening

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons lemon extract

2 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold milk

5 large egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Lemon Custard Filling (recipe follows)

Lemon Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with wax paper cut to fit and butter the paper. Dust the inside of each pan with flour; tap out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and shortening for 3 minutes. Add 2 cups of the sugar to the creamed mixture, 2/3 cup at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Blend in the lemon extract and zest. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk in a total of 5 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until the flour is completely incorporated.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until soft mounds form. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over the egg whites and beat until firm peaks form. Stir 1/4 of the egg-white mixture into the creamed mixture to lighten the batter. Then fold in the remaining whites.

Divide the batter equally among the 3 prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven until golden on top and a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, peel away the wax paper and turn right-side up to cool completely.

Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate and spread the top with 1/2 of the Lemon Custard Filling. Carefully position a second layer on top and spread with the remaining filling. Place the remaining layer on the top. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the Lemon Frosting. Let the cake stand for 1 hour before serving. (The cake can be refrigerated for up to several hours.)

Per serving: 934 calories, 7 gm protein, 150 gm carbohydrates, 35 gm fat, 167 mg cholesterol, 20 gm saturated fat, 395 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Lemon Custard Filling

(Makes about 1 1/4 cups)

This tangy lemon filling is delicious spread on layers of white or yellow cake. It can be made a day in advance.

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Pinch salt

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

Place a fine-meshed sieve over a medium nonreactive bowl. Set aside.

In a heavy, nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the water. Stir in 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice.

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon (do not use a whisk; do not stir rapidly). Cook at a low boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Stir 3 tablespoons of the hot lemon mixture into the egg yolks. Then stir the egg yolk-lemon mixture into the lemon filling, return the pan to medium heat and simmer until thickened, about 1 minute.

Scrape the hot filling into the sieve and press with a spatula; discard the solids.

Add the lemon zest, butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice to the filling and gently stir to combine. Transfer the filling to a plastic storage container, press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and cool for 20 minutes. Cover the container and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 119 calories, 1 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 88 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 27 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Lemon Frosting

(Makes about 3 2/3 cups)

Bright-tasting, with the tang of citrus.

6 cups confectioners' sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

1 1/4 teaspoons lemon extract

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size chunks, at room temperature

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, salt, lemon juice, heavy cream and lemon extract. Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is very creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Use the frosting immediately.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 113 calories, trace protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 9 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Coconut-Cream Birthday Cake

(12 to 14 servings as a 2-layer cake )

This fanciful layer cake has coconut through-and-through--in the cake batter, in a cream filling and over the frosted cake.

Butter and all-purpose flour for the pans

2 1/2 cups unsifted bleached cake flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 2/3 cups superfine sugar

5 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup light (table) cream 1/4 cup milk 3/4 cup firmly packed sweetened flaked coconut, plus about 3 cups additional for topping the cake

Coconut Cream Filling (recipe follows)

Vanilla Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with wax paper cut to fit and butter the paper. Dust the inside of each pan with flour and tap out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter for 2 minutes. Add the sugar in 2 additions, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Add 2 of the egg yolks and beat for 45 seconds. Add the remaining 3 egg yolks and beat for 1 minute. Blend in the vanilla.

Blend the light cream and milk together with 3/4 cup flaked coconut.

On low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the milk-coconut mixture in a total of 5 additions, beginning and ending with the sifted mixture.

Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until set and a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, peel away the wax paper and turn right-side up to cool completely.

Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate and spread the top with Coconut Cream Filling. Carefully position the second layer on top. Frost the sides and top of the cake with Vanilla Frosting. Sprinkle the remaining 3 cups coconut on top of the cake and press it into the sides. Let the cake stand for 1 hour before serving. (It can be refrigerated for up to several hours.)

Per serving (based on 14): 724 calories, 5 gm protein, 105 gm carbohydrates, 33 gm fat, 173 mg cholesterol, 22 gm saturated fat, 235 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Coconut Cream Filling

(Makes about 1 1/8 cups)

Dense and puddinglike, this filling is an exceptional flavor-enhancer for a coconut layer cake, but it's also delicious between yellow or white layers, or chocolate-coconut layers. 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Pinch of salt

2/3 cup milk

1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream

2 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Place a fine-meshed sieve over a medium nonreactive bowl. Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan stir together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Slowly stir in the milk and heavy cream, mixing well. Stir in the egg yolks. Cook over medium heat, stirring slowly (do not stir rapidly or use a whisk), until the mixture begins to thicken. There will be small clumps. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Scrape the hot filling into the sieve and press it with a spatula. Discard the solids.

Slowly stir the vanilla and butter into the filling. Fold in the coconut. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the filling. Cool for 20 minutes. Refrigerate the filling for at least 4 hours before using. The filling can be made up to 24 hours in advance; refrigerate in an airtight storage container.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 103 calories, 2 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 41 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Vanilla Frosting

(Makes about 4 1/4 cups)

The butter in the frosting makes this a rich finish to layers of cake.

8 cups confectioners' sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons milk

3 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size chunks, at room temperature

In a large bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, salt, milk, heavy cream and vanilla. Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Refrigerate the frosting for 20 minutes; remove from the refrigerator and beat for 1 minute. Use the frosting immediately.

Per 2-tablespoon serving: 124 calories, trace protein, 24 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 20 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber

Golden Birthday Cake

(12 to 14 servings as a 2-layer cake)

This egg-enriched cake batter has a plain, old-fashioned taste and fine-grained texture. It's superb assembled with chocolate frosting.

Butter and all-purpose flour for the pans

2 1/2 cups unsifted bleached cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons solid shortening

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup milk

Chocolate Frosting (see recipe on Page F4)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with wax paper cut to fit and butter the paper. Dust the inside of each pan with flour and tap out the excess flour. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and shortening for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sugar in 2 additions, beating for 1 to 2 minutes after each addition. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Beat in the egg yolks. Blend in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk in a total of 5 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden on top and a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, peel away the wax paper and turn right-side up to cool completely.

Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate and spread with a layer of Chocolate Frosting. Carefully position the second layer on top. Frost the sides and top of the cake. Let the cake stand for 1 hour before serving.

Per serving (based on 14): 525 calories, 5 gm protein, 73 gm carbohydrates, 25 gm fat, 106 mg cholesterol, 14 gm saturated fat, 199 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Chocolate-Chip Birthday Cake

(12 to 14 servings as a 2-layer cake)

Miniature semisweet chocolate chips thoroughly dot this moist and creamy-textured cake batter.

Butter and all-purpose flour for the pans

2 2/3 cups unsifted bleached all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar

2 large eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons milk

Chocolate Frosting (see recipe on Page F4)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with wax paper cut to fit, butter the paper and dust the inside of each pan with flour. Tap out the excess flour and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a small bowl, toss the chocolate chips with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the sifted flour mixture.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter for 3 minutes. Add the sugar in 3 additions, beating for 1 minute after addition. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Blend in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk in a total of 5 additions, beginning and ending with the sifted mixture. Stir in the floured chocolate chips.

Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, peel away the wax paper and turn right-side up to cool completely.

Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate and spread with a layer of Chocolate Frosting. Carefully position the second layer on top. Frost the sides and top of the cake. Let the cake stand for 1 hour before serving.

Per serving (based on 14): 595 calories, 6 gm protein, 84 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 81 mg cholesterol, 17 gm saturated fat, 252 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Lisa Yockelson is at work on a cookbook about developing flavor in baked goods, to be published by John Wiley & Sons Inc.