I've found that many people are surprised by how easy it is to make whip cream yourself and how much better it is than that stuff from the can. The key is in not over-whipping it, which can happen pretty easily, especially with a stand mixer. Over-whipped cream is grainy and tastes heavy. Really overwhipped cream starts to turn to butter. Cream that has been whipped just to soft peak is soft and light, more billowy than the Redi-Whip stiff peaks.
And if you'd like a demo for what goes on the other side of that pie – the crust – check out my How to Make a Flaky Pie Crust post on Serious Eats.
Here's a step-by-step demo of how to make perfect whipped cream:
I prefer using an electric hand mixer. You can use a whisk – personally, my patience and wrists are not up for the task. A stand mixer with a whisk attachment is good for larger amounts, but it whips the cream so quickly that the risk of over-whipping is high.
Pour the cream in a small, deep bowl. The cream will expand as it is whipped, so you want the bowl to be large enough to contain it. It helps to chill the bowl, too. (This is my beloved whipped cream bowl that I've used since I was a kid.)
Begin on medium speed, rotating the beater around in the bowl.
When the cream starts to thicken into the first hints of soft peaks – you'll see little wave-like streaks through the cream – add a small amount of sugar (it's up to you how much, but I like maybe just a teaspoon for 1/2 cup of cream) and a few drops of vanilla extract.
Lower the speed to medium-low and watch the cream carefully; it's almost done. Continue just until you have very soft peaks. It should hold together enough to hold a dollop shape. Use it right away, if possible. If you need to do it a couple hours in advance of serving, chill and whisk it gently until it is consistent and smooth.
If you want to squeeze it through a pastry tube, the process of pushing it through the tip will stiffen it up more, so it's fine if it's softly whipped.
For a very stiff and stable whipped cream (like for decorating a cake), soften a little gelatin in cold water and then heat it to a simmer until the gelatin dissolves. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and add it to the cream, along with the sugar and vanilla.