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Most were probably rather sickly, made from cheap sponge filled with 'buttercream'..coated with fondant icing. French gateau are richer than the products of British bakers. These products naturally relaxed into rounded shapes.
They involve thin layers of sponge, usually genoise, or meringue; some are based on choux pastry. The later are rarely dairy cream; instead creme patissiere (confectioner's custard--milk, sugar, egg yolks, and a little flour) or creme au buerre (a rich concoction of egg yolks creamed with sugar syrup and softened butter) are used. By the 17th century, cake hoops (fashioned from metal or wood) were placed on flat pans to effect the shape.
They were more bread-like and sweetened with honey. According to the food historians, the ancient Egyptians were the first culture to show evidence of advanced baking skills.
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the English word cake back to the 13th century. Medieval European bakers often made fruitcakes and gingerbread. According to the food historians, the precursors of modern cakes (round ones with icing) were first baked in Europe sometime in the mid-17th century. The first icing were usually a boiled composition of the finest available sugar, egg whites and [sometimes] flavorings. The cake was then returned to the oven for a while.
From the very earliest items, a large number of French provinces have produced cakes for which they are noted.
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).
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...