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Modern cooks rise to the challenge of long-forgotten bakers Elizabeth Duane and Avis Crocombe   

Two new celebrity chefs, one of whom has her own YouTube channel, are making waves online with their cake recipes, despite both having died more than a century ago.

In the mid-19th century a New Yorker named Elizabeth Duane perfected a recipe for a sponge cake. A few years later during the reign of Queen Victoria, an English cook named Avis Crocombe was knocking up cakes for guests at Audley End House in Essex.

Duane’s recipes are being released weekly by the New York Historical Society to an avid audience that responds with questions about what constitutes “a tumbler of powdered sugar”. Crocombe, meanwhile, has been posthumously granted her own YouTube channel by English Heritage.

The cook, who was from Devon, is played by the historical interpreter Kathy Hipperson, who sports a frilly white mobcap and a lavish West Country accent in videos that have attracted millions of views.

“Sometimes if we are busy I ask Fanny from the dairy to make the bread,” she says in her latest episode, in which she makes saffron buns. Her instructions are precise, though many viewers seemed troubled by her injunction that “you will need to use your judgment”.

The recipes of Duane and her family were digitised by the society several years ago, along with manuscripts and cooking tips from the 1840s to the 1950s. Many were still covered in spills and pieces of egg, which the society sent for DNA testing.

Louise Mirrer, the society’s chief executive, said Duane’s recipes offered an intimate connection to another time and were relatively simple, although a lot of people have contacted her for guidance. A recipe for Jenny Lind bread, named after the Swedish opera singer, calls for “a lump of butter the size of an egg”. “I had copious amounts of people emailing and asking me to define these measurements for them,” Ms Mirrer said.

“There is no baking time, it doesn’t tell you the size of the pan or how many pans to use. It takes you back to a period of time when baking wasn’t quite like chemistry. But a tumbler is roughly a cup, and butter the size of an egg — you have to make your own decision but in the 19th century things tended to be smaller.”