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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.
From the very earliest items, a large number of French provinces have produced cakes for which they are noted.
In its northeastern Old French dialect from wasel it as borrowed into English in the thirteenth century, where it survived until the seventeenth century." ---An A to Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press: Oxford] 2002 (p.
138) "The word 'gateau' crossed the Channel to England in the early 19th century...
Gateau has wider applications in French, just as 'cake' does in English..can mean a savoury cake, a sweet or savoury tart, or a thin pancake." ---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press: Oxford] 1999 (p. Choux/ puff paste, sponge, French cremes, Gateau St. As time progressed, baking pans in various shapes and sizes, became readily available to the general public.
Moulded cakes (and fancy ices) reached their zenith in Victorian times.
Cakes can last much longer, some even improving with age (fruit cake).
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.