At its most basic, cream pie is a thick, creamy filling (usually made with thickened milk) topped with whipped cream. There are endless varieties you can make with any basic recipe by adding different flavoring agents. My own cream pie recipe is adapted from an old edition of The Joy of Cooking, and I have made several different flavors based on the original. Here is my basic Cream Pie recipe, followed by some of the cream pie variations I have made (with links to the recipes).
Basic Cream Pie:
1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust, using whichever type of cookie or cracker will best fit your filling (you could use vanilla wafers, chocolate cookies, Ritz crackers, etc.)
1 cup sugar (or you can start with 3/4 cup and add more as you go - this pie is very sweet)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 Cups milk
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In the top of a double boiler combine the sugar, flour, salt, and milk. Stir the mixture in the bowl while the water boils beneath it, cooking for about 10-12 minutes until the mixture thickens (In the first five minutes it doesn't seem to get thicker, but once it starts to thicken, it goes quickly. Make sure to stir it frequently and scrape the sides with a plastic spatula). Thickening time depends on how cold your milk is to start with. It can take up to 14 minutes to get nice and thick like a pudding. Once it is thickened, remove from the heat.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks. Take a small amount of the hot milk/flour mixture (about a teaspoon at first) and stir it into the eggs. Add another spoonful and stir it in (you are "tempering" the eggs so they don't cook and curdle). After mixing in a few spoonfuls, pour the egg mixture into the rest of the hot milk mix. Return it to the double boiler and cook until thickened some more (about 3 more minutes) stirring constantly. Take it off the heat.
Stir in the vanilla extract to the filling mixture. Now let it cool a bit. I place a layer of plastic wrap over the top to prevent the usual "pudding crust." You can stick the filling in the fridge to help it chill faster. When the filling has cooled, pour it into the pie shell. Then return it to the fridge to for another hour to make sure it is well-chilled before topping it with whipped cream. Keep it in the fridge when not serving.
Fresh Whipped Cream Topping:
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 - 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, depending on how sweet you want it
Optional: 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
Make sure the cream is well-chilled, (I even chill the mixing bowl and beaters when I make whipped cream). Beat the cream by hand with a wire whisk, or use an electric mixer with the whisk attachment on high. When the cream is thicker and can form soft peaks, add in the sugar and vanilla. Continue to beat until it is very thick and can form stiff peaks. Spread it over the chilled pie.
Keep the pie back in the fridge until serving.
Cut this with a very sharp knife dipped in hot water. Clean the knife with a towel between slices to keep it neat.
(Yes, this one has meringue in the picture, but it is the exact
same recipe I use for Butterscotch Cream Pie, I just
put whipped cream on top instead of meringue.)
Eggnog Pie (ugly picture, but super-tasty pie!)