Like a good fruit cake, a plum pudding develops its full taste if made at least a week ahead. It's then reheated 2 hours before serving.
The pudding mixture: Toss the bread crumbs with the raisins, sugar, and spices, next with the melted butter, then with the rest of the ingredients. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more spices if needed.
Steaming (about 6 hours): Pack pudding into a mold or bowl; cover with a round of wax paper and a lid. Set on steamer basket in a kettle; add water to come a third of the way up the mold. Cover tightly; steam about 6 hours. (Be sure there is always water in the kettle!) It is done when a dark walnut-brown color and fairly firm to the touch.
Curing and storing: Let cool in its bowl or mold (unmold, if you wish, after 1/2 hour and store on a covered dish). Let cure in a cool place until serving day. (Plum puddings keep nicely several months.) Before serving, steam until warmed through-about 2 hours. Serving notes: Decorate top of the pudding with sprigs of holly. Pour hot rum or whiskey (about 1/2 cup) around warm pudding on a hot serving dish. Ignite and bring flaming to the table. Serve with hard sauce, foamy sauce or our untraditional zabaione pudding sauce flavored with the flaming spirits.
Yield: 6 cups steamed in a 8-cup mold. Serving 12 people.
Whisk all ingredients together for I minute in a stainless saucepan. Then whisk over moderately low heat for 4 to 5 minutes, adding sugar to your taste. As mixture heats, it will gradually become thick, foamy and warm to your finger. Do not bring to the simmer-it will scramble the eggs-but sauce must heat enough to thicken.
Serving notes: Zabione pudding sauce will remain foamy if served within20to30minutes. lf it separates, simply beat it briefly over heat. To refoam a cold sauce, whisk in a stiffly beaten egg white.
Yield: 1 3/4 cups