In 2021, I got a call from Amazon Web Services (AWS) asking me to bake 100 of my custom-designed cookies for the opening of the first AWS Think Big Space educational space in the local area. That cookie order might not sound like a lot, but it was a big deal for me, and it changed my life.
That first order from AWS helped my business become one of the most popular sources of cakes and cookies in eastern Oregon, and I continue to supply AWS with cookies for their local community events.
I moved to the United States as a teenager from Mexico. I’m now a mom of two, and I’ve been running my business, Xocolatl Bakery, from my home here in Boardman since 2003. The kitchen is really the centerpiece of my family's home, in the same way it was for us in Mexico.
Before AWS helped me push my business to the next level, I did all my baking out of my little home oven. I can still picture my stand mixer in the corner of the crowded kitchen, helping me fulfill orders for birthday parties and special events.
Today, I've moved into a larger facility—a tiny, separate house out in our backyard where I keep all my ingredients, ovens, racks, and 3D printers. I do everything here, from my bookkeeping to my baking.
One important piece of advice I’d give to other small business owners is to keep personal and business expenses completely separate. This ensures a clear line between the two finances and never risks my family if my business should fall on tough times.
Having said that, I would not have reached any kind of success without my family. They pitch in everywhere. My son Alberto is one of my key assistants when I have a big order, and my daughter Paola assists me with her excellent artistic abilities.
My husband always helps with the heavy lifting, even after a full day at his own job. My mom still teaches me old baking tricks, and my sister always puts the final, beautiful touches on the packaging of my cookies and cakes. I have a big extended family too, and each one of them helps out in their own way as well.
One of the most strategic moves I made was investing in a 3D printer to print cookie cutters. I make cookies in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and I was buying a lot of cutters. Quality cookie cutters cost about $6 each, while a 3D printer costs about $200. I did the math, and although it took a little time to make a return on the investment, having the ability to print cookie cutters in the precise dimensions and designs that I want has been invaluable for establishing my brand and streamlining my operations.
The 3D printer also helps me customize cookies for each customer. For the last AWS Girls’ Tech Day event I did, AWS sent me the logos and designs they wanted ahead of time. I uploaded them to my computer, and the 3D printer shaped and built the cookie cutter.
"AWS has had a huge impact in creating so many more jobs in the area. The company’s investments around here have also improved our education system. Now we have programs for our kids during the summer. For the first time next year, our local high school will be offering a robotics class."
Another thing I’ve invested in is a food printer. A food printer jets edible ink onto the cookies and provides the background, color, and character for my designs.
Then, I hand-layer icing and other goodies to bring the creation completely to life. Buying the printer has helped me make cookies with really intricate designs.
For the most recent AWS event I made cookies for, the opening of the AWS Think Big Space at Umatilla High School, I pulled all the logos and designs myself. The ability to create such specific orders was almost impossible for me to imagine just a few years ago.
I was so happy seeing people enjoy my cookies. I couldn’t believe that my work was part of these amazing efforts to get more young people learning about technology. These kinds of events are so important because it means kids in my area, including my son Alberto—who loves everything to do with technology—have the opportunity to learn new skills. It helps them dream big.
AWS has had a huge impact in creating so many more jobs in the area. The company’s investments around here have also improved our education system. Now we have programs for our kids during the summer. For the first time next year, our local high school will be offering a robotics class. This is a big step for our children. Our community has always been focused on agriculture. But these classes will prepare our kids to be more involved in the future challenges of technology.
Alma's baking tips
Know your oven temperature
I'm often asked for tips on baking a “perfect cookie.” My reply? Know your oven temperature. This may seem silly because ovens tell you the temperature, but oven thermometers are often wrong or placed somewhere so the reading isn't representative of the whole oven chamber. I recommend buying your own thermometer. Knowing the exact temperature will help you keep a clear handle on the baking process.
Pay for premium ingredients
It’s also important to pay for premium ingredients. It took me a long time to realize this. Even baking powder has different levels of quality. Flour, salt, sugar, fillings—if you want the best cookies, you need the best components. The difference will be worth it.
There’s no wrong way to bake
The last tip I have for people when it comes to baking: There is no wrong way. Ask your elders. Talk to your friends. Peruse the internet. If you want the perfect chocolate cookies, find 10 ways of doing them, try the ones that sound the tastiest, and then develop your own recipe out of those.
Don't just search “chocolate cookies” and accept the first result. Baking requires practice. It’s an art form, and I love it!
This video and story are part of the new AWS docuseries, Data Centered: Eastern Oregon, which celebrates local community members whose lives are being changed for the better by the cloud—in unexpected ways. Watch the latest episodes in the series.