Today is my Dad's 83rd birthday. No big celebrations for him, he's rather a "bah-humbug" when it comes to birthdays and holidays! He's hard to buy for but I know a sure-fire way to please him, bake him a vanilla cream pie. It's his favorite and also one of the easiest and simplest pies to make!
Cream pies are really easy and can be done in steps to fit into your schedule. The pie crust can be made a day ahead or, in my case this day, in the morning. Bake it, let it cool, and make the pudding filling and meringue later!
Because cream pies don't need baking, only a little oven action to brown the meringue, the pie crust must be pre-baked. To keep the pie crust from baking unevenly, the unbaked crust must be pricked with a fork. Pricking allows air to escape so the pie dough doesn't get bubbly. I add two more steps by chilling the pie crust for 30 minutes or so and using a homemade version of pie weights to keep the crust weighted down during baking. I keep dried garbanzo beans in a container for just this purpose. I put waxed paper in the pie crust, fill it with the dried beans and bake for about half the recommended baking time. I carefully remove the waxed paper and beans and continue baking. The result is a nicely browned, evenly-shaped pie crust.
Meringue isn't difficult to make but care must be taken that the meringue is thoroughly whipped so that the sugar is dissolved. Sugar crystals will cause the meringue to weep. After whipping the meringue, take a little dollop and rub between your fingertips. If it still feels grainy, whip it a little more. Put meringue on hot filling, making sure all the filling is covered.
Our computer is in for repairs so I couldn't access the regular vanilla cream pudding recipe that I usually use, one that my Mom has made for years (most of my recipes are on our computer). Today I used this recipe from Paula Deen. It was good but a little sweeter than I like. Next time it's back to the old recipe! But, Dad liked it, and on this day that was all that mattered!