For Luchetti, formerly the pastry chef at Stars in San Francisco, now at Farallon and the author of Four-Star Desserts (HarperCollins), the perfect birthday cake is a big, sexy thing that's not too dainty to dig into. She starts with plain vanilla layers so she can pile on the coconut, pecans and chopped bittersweet chocolate in the filling, then trowel thick chocolate frosting all over without losing the individual flavors.
Rose Levy Beranbaum takes a more refined approach. The author of seven cookbooks, including The Cake Bible (Morrow) and the upcoming Pie & Pastry Bible (Scribner), Beranbaum finds her ideal in a slim wedge of chocolate cake glazed with espresso ganache. She forgoes the coarse moist crumb of most American cakes in pursuit of a velvety texture, which she achieves by using generous amounts of butter. Happily, a chocolate cake is hard to bungle--even if it falls, it's still delicious. But then it's called molten chocolate cake.
Seasonality is Flo Braker's guide when she's deciding what to bake. September marks the beginning of autumn, so Braker, author of The Simple Art of Perfect Baking (Houghton Mifflin), looks to sweet spices and citrus fruits for inspiration. Her recipe combines the spiciness of honey cake with the bracing sweetness of orange curd--a perfect finale for our special occasion.