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What Is Gâteau?

Dessert lovers are familiar with gâteau (pronounced ga-toe). This delightful French cake uses almond flour, not wheat flour. It is very similar to sponge cake in terms of consistency and lightness, but is usually embellished with layer upon heavenly layer of frosting and filling.

Though, strictly speaking, all French cakes are gâteaus, Westerners are more familiar with the petite gateau that became the trend in popular restaurants and bakeshops in the 1990s. Two versions emerged. The first is made of chocolate but contains a very rich, melted chocolate filling that would “burst” in one’s mouth. For ultimate decadence this dessert was typically served with ice cream. Many restaurants would call it molten lava cake.

The second kind of petite gateau was made of entirely different ingredients—light crepe layers, with fruits and jams sandwiched between. These were usually dusted with a snowflake-thin layer of confectionary sugar. This cake was best eaten hot or warm.

For the French, however, gâteaus can mean any kind of cake, except cream pastries, pies, or tarts. Thus, there are the simple gâteau au yaourt which uses nothing but buttermilk. For special occasions there are the more elaborate cakes such as the Buche de Noel, which is a sponge cake that is decorated with almond cream and chocolate ganache to resemble a Christmas log. Other varieties are the jelly roll, where a long and thin layer of sponge cake is spread out, then covered with a thick layer of cream and jam, before being rolled and then decorated with colored or confectionary sugar.

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