Butter the pudding basin liberally and press a round of parchment or wax paper into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the bowl/basin.
Mix the flour, nutmeg, ginger, mixed spice, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Grate the zest of the lemon directly into the bowl to capture the spray of lemon oil along with the zest. Add breadcrumbs, suet, apples, raisins, almonds, candied peel, prunes, currants, raisins, and brown sugar. Mix thoroughly with you hands. Either cover the bowl and let the mixture rest overnight, or just carry on with the recipe now…
Cut and squeeze the juice of half of the lemon in a medium bowl. Whisk in the eggs, brandy, and stout.
Scrape the egg mixture over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to make a sticky lumpy batter.
Turn the batter into the prepared basin/bowl and pat it level. Place a round of parchment or wax paper on top of the batter. Cover the bowl with a large cloth napkin or square of foil. Let the napkin drape over the sides of the bowl; for foil, press down the sides to cover the rim with plenty of margin. Tie a piece of string under the rim of the bowl to hold the napkin or foil in place. If you have used a napkin, tie the ends as follows to make a handle: Bring two opposite corners to meet on top of the bowl and tie them together, repeat with the two remaining corners.
Set the bowl in a large pot and fill it with water about halfway up the sides of the bowl. Cover and steam 4 to 5 hours (or for 8 if you want to reduce final steaming time to 1 hour). Let cool and store in a cold place (a larder in England, or a fridge in California). Steam for another 4 to 5 hours before serving (or for 1 hour if you have already logged 8 hours). Serve hot.
To serve, unmold the pudding onto a warmed serving platter. Peel and discard the paper liner. Ask someone to kill the lights in the dining room while you warm 2 to 3 tablespoons of brandy in a small saucepan. Set the brandy on fire with a match and pour it over the pudding before entering the dining room.
For the hard sauce/brandy butter:
Beat the butter and confectioners' sugar together until blended. Beat the brandy in gradually. If the mixture curdles, beat in a bit more confectioners' sugar or 1 or 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Refrigerate until serving.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).