Like a good fruitcake, a plum pudding develops its full flavor when made at least a week ahead. Count on 6 hours for the initial, almost unattended steaming, and 2 hours to reheat before serving.
The pudding mixture:
Toss the bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl with the raisins, sugar and spices. Then toss with the melted butter, and finally with the rest of the ingredients, except, of course, the holly and Zabaione Sauce. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more spices if needed.
To microwave Plum Pudding:
Butter the dish you are cooking the pudding in, then cover the bottom of the dish with a buttered piece of wax paper. Pour in batter. Cover dish with plastic wrap and pierce the plastic with a knife in several places. Cook at "defrost" (low speed) for 30 minutes. If your microwave oven does not have a carousel which turns the dish during cooking, stop the process several times during the cooking and rotate the dish manually. Finally, cook at 5 minutes on "bake" (high speed). Let the pudding set for a few minutes before unmolding. The pudding is ready when it is firm to the touch. The microwaved plum pudding is somewhat paler than its steamed counterpart.
To steam a Plum Pudding:
Use a special pan made for this purpose. You must have a container with a very tight lid on it which will stay sealed throughout the cooking. Steaming-about 6 hours: Pack the pudding mixture into the container; cover with a round of wax paper and the lid. Set the container on the steaming contraption in the kettle, and add enough water to come a third of the way up the sides of the container. Cover the kettle tightly; bring to the simmer, and let steam about 6 hours. Warning: check the kettle now and then to be sure the water hasn't boiled off!
When is it done? When it is a dark walnut-brown color and fairly firm to the touch. Curing and storing. Let the pudding cool in its container. Store it in a cool wine cellar, or in the refrigerator. Ahead -of-time note: Pudding will keep nicely for several months. Resteaming: A good 2 hours before you plan to serve, resteam the pudding-it must be quite warm indeed for successful flaming. Unmold onto a hot serving platter and decorate, if you wish, with sprigs of holly.
continued in part 2