John Deere tractors are an iconic emblem of rural America, just as neon-lit fast food signs define urban spaces. The company’s logo and signature green and yellow color scheme grace ball caps, belt buckles and bumper stickers from coast to coast, demonstrating the kind of brand loyalty normally associated with sleek technology products. Unsurprisingly, the Deere theme makes it way into cake decorating. Some manufacturers offer special tractor-shaped cake pans, but if you have moderate skills, you can produce a tractor cake in sheet or 3-D form without one.
Things You'll Need
Sheet Pan Tractor
Print or hand draw a template for your tractor. The easiest way is to scan or photocopy an illustration from a children’s book or coloring book, then enlarge it to the correct size. These are already stylized and simplified, and easy to work from.
Prepare and bake a sheet cake of the appropriate size, using your preferred recipe or mix. Once the cake has cooled, wrap it tightly in plastic film wrap and freeze it at least overnight. This step is optional, but it improves the cake’s texture and makes it easier to cut without it crumbling.
Thaw the cake, and unwrap it. Place the paper template over the cake, and tack it in place with toothpicks. Use a sharp, thin-bladed serrated knife to score the cake all the way around the template, making a shallow cut that marks the outlines of your design. Remove the template and its toothpicks. Cut around your design again, following the original line, but this time cutting completely through your cake to leave a tractor shape. Set aside the trim pieces.
Brush any excess crumbs from the cake with a pastry brush, then spread it with a thin “crumb coat” of buttercream frosting. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to harden the crumb coat, then remove it from the refrigerator. Use a piping bag with a thin tip to draw the tractor design on your cake, so you’ll know where to use each color of icing.
Ice the cake in John Deere green, except for the black tires and their yellow hubs. Black icing is notably difficult to make at home, so consider using store-bought icing for the tires. Use black icing and a piping bag with a fine tip — or thin, stringlike ropes of black licorice — to make lines on your design, giving the tractor some more detail.
A 3-D Deere
Prepare and bake a sheet cake, either from scratch or from a mix. Wrap the cooled cake tightly in plastic film wrap, and freeze it for at 12 to 24 hours. This improves the cake’s texture, and makes it easier to sculpt.
Cut a rectangular strip from the sheet cake. It can be any size, but its length and width should be roughly proportional to the real tractor you’re recreating. Trim the slab with a thin-bladed serrated knife, so it’s slightly tapered at the front, then split the cake — if you wish — and spread buttercream or other fillings between the two halves. Reassemble the first section, which serves as the tractor’s body.
Cut another rectangular slab of cake, slightly narrower than the first, to make the tractor’s cab. Cut it in half at the mid-point, to make two shorter rectangles or squares, then split them horizontally. Fill these shorter sections with buttercream or other fillings, and stack them to make a tall, almost-square cab. Position the cab at the rear of the tractor’s body, and make sure it’s proportionate to the rest. If necessary, use your knife to trim thin slices from each side until it looks right. Use bamboo skewers to mount the cab in place, and cover the whole tractor with a thin “crumb coat” of buttercream icing.
Cut large and small circles from the remainder of your sheet cake, with different sized cookie cutters, to make the tractor’s tires. If your sheet cake is too soft, use pound cake, doughnuts, cookies or crispy rice treats instead. Secure the tires to the side of your tractor with toothpicks, then use bamboo skewers to mount the cab in place. Crumb coat the tires as well, then refrigerate the entire cake for at least 30 minutes to harden the frosting.
Decorate the cake in green and yellow icing, using spatulas and piping bags as needed. It’s difficult to make a good icing in black at home, so you might prefer to use a commercial icing for the tires. Use piping bags with extra-fine tips to detail your tractor with hints of black, and lighter or darker shades of green and yellow.
To create a template from a specific model of John Deere tractor, scan a good photo and use graphics software to convert it into a line-art image.
The preliminary “crumb coat” isn’t mandatory, but it’s standard practice among professionals. It binds up loose crumbs and prevents them from ruining the cake’s finished appearance, and also helps smooth the surface of the cake. If part of the cake has crumbled, during cutting, you can mix crumbs with some of the icing and use the mixture to fill that gap during this stage.
Alternatively, cover your cake with rolled fondant in a suitable green and then use black and yellow fondant for the tires, hubs and any necessary detailing. If you’re skilled with this pliable, claylike frosting, your cake can be especially detailed and realistic.
Cake decorating shops and online vendors, and some department stores, carry pre-made John Deere-themed decorating supplies. Use these as secondary decorations, or purchase a commercially produced Deere logo to give your cake a professional touch.
Instead of a sheet cake, a smaller 3-D tractor can be made from two loaf cakes. Trim away their rounded domes with a serrated knife or cake leveller, so they’re flat on top, then proceed as you would with a sheet cake.
Large, modern closed-cab tractors tend to be taller than open-seat tractors, so you might wish to build up three or four layers of cake rather than just two. For an old-school, open-seat tractor, omit the cab-building steps. Instead, use your knife to cut away the top layer of the cake roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of the way back, creating the seating area.
For an especially lavish affair, make a 3-D John Deere and place it on top of a sheet cake that’s decorated to look like a farmer’s field or a country road. Cookie crumbs make a tasty and surprisingly realistic “dirt.”
References and ResourcesThe Professional Pastry Chef; Bo Friberg
DessArts.com: Building a Tractor Cake