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The first gateau were simply flat round cakes made with flour and water, but over the centuries these were enriched with honey, eggs, spices, butter, cream and milk.

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This is due to primarily to advances in technology (more reliable ovens, manufacture/availability of food molds) and ingredient availability (refined sugar). When removed the icing cooled quickly to form a hard, glossy [ice-like] covering.

At that time cake hoops--round molds for shaping cakes that were placed on flat baking trays--were popular. Many cakes made at this time still contained dried fruits (raisins, currants, citrons).

Although both terms can be used for savoury preparations (meat cakes or vegetable gateaux) their main use is for sweet baked goods.

Cakes can be large or small, plain of fancy, light or rich.

They are variously called fouaces, fouaches, fouees or fouyasses, according to the district...

Among the many pastries which were in high favor from the 12th to the 15th centuries in Paris and other cities were: echaudes, of which two variants, the falgeols and the gobets, were especially prized by the people of Paris; and darioles, small tartlets covered with narrow strips of pastry...

In France, the word 'gateau' designates various patisserie items based on puff pastry, shortcrust pastry (basic pie dough), sweet pastry, pate saglee, choux pastry, Genoese and whisked sponges and meringue...

The word 'gateau' is derived from the Old French wastel, meaning 'food'.

Since the Second World War, however, usage of the term has honed in on an elaborate 'cream cake': the cake element, generally a fairly unremarkable sponge, is in most cases simply an excuse for lavish layers of cream, and baroque cream and fruit ornamentation...

The word gateau is the modern French descendant of Old French guastel, 'fine bread'; which is probably of Germanic origin.

Gateau is generally used for fancy, but light or rich, often with fresh decoration, such as fresh fruit or whipped cream.

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