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In Victorian England cookery writers used 'gateau' initially to denote puddings such as rice baked in a mould, and moulded baked dishes of fish or meat; during the second part of the century it was also applied to highly decorated layer cakes.
Moulded cakes (and fancy ices) reached their zenith in Victorian times.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).Cakes can last much longer, some even improving with age (fruit cake).Torte is the German word for cake, with similar properties.
Gateau is generally used for fancy, but light or rich, often with fresh decoration, such as fresh fruit or whipped cream.