Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
In a saucepan over low heat, add the cream, the scraped vanilla bean and the seeds (or extract) and 1/2 cup of sugar. Whisk to combine. Bring the cream to a boil. While the cream is coming to a boil, whisk the yolks and 1/2 cup sugar together until they are a homogeneous mixture. When the cream comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and whisk in 1/3 of the egg yolk mixture, then immediately whisk in the remaining egg mixture. This is called tempering, it allows you to combine hot cream and eggs without making scrambled eggs. It's kinda fun! Reserve this mixture until you are ready to assemble the pudding.
To assemble the pudding:
Butter 1 side of the slices of bread and cut them into triangles. Butter an 8 by 8-inch square baking dish and put a layer of bread points, overlapping, in the bottom of the dish. Strain the raisins reserving the whiskey. Sprinkle half of the whiskey soaked raisins on top of the bread layer. Pour half of the cream/egg mixture over the bread and raisins. Repeat this process with the bread and raisins and finally finish with bread. Pour the remaining cream/egg mixture into the dish. Press down gently on the whole thing to compress and really compact the pudding. If all of the cream mixture doesn't fit into the pan, wait 10 to 15 minutes and then try again. The bread may need a little while to absorb all the cream. MMMMM& don't skimp on this step.
Set the bread pudding dish inside a 9 by 13-inch baking dish or roasting pan and add hot water until it reaches 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up the sides of the pudding dish. Cover the whole thing with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven until the custard has set, about 1 hour.
Remove the pudding from the water bath and let it cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the top of the custard with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a thin even layer. Put the pudding under the broiler or use a blow torch (This is REALLY fun!) to crystallize the sugar on the top of the pudding. A little bit crusty and burnt and sweeeeeeet! YuuuuuummmY! Serve with the whiskey tea sauce.
To make the sauce:
While the pudding is baking, combine all the ingredients and the reserved Irish whiskey in a small saucepan and let steep for 15 minutes. Discard the tea bags and the lemon half. Bring the sauce to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. Taste, the sauce should be very pungent, sweet and spicy (cinnamon and clove--not spicy hot) and a perfect accompaniment to the creamy sweet pudding.
Recipe courtesy of Anne Burrell