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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...
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.
Gateau is generally used for fancy, but light or rich, often with fresh decoration, such as fresh fruit or whipped cream.
Whereas a cake may remain fresh for several days after baking or even improve with keeping, a gateau usually includes fresh decoration or ingredients that do not keep well, such as fresh fruit or whipped cream.
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.