A love for baking, a mother-daughter bond and a receptive community. This is the recipe for success for local business, It’s Dough Time Baby.
It’s Dough Time Baby is an Opelika bakery that specializes in custom, homemade cookies. Owner Judi Middleton operates completely out of her home in Opelika. Middleton has a nook off to the side of her house where she finds peace and gets creative.
She displays her array of cookie cutters on a large board, hanging on pegs. She also has multiple shelving structures to store baked cookies, ingredients and all the different tools she uses to create cookie designs. With a background in graphic design, she uses her talents to create art. Middleton said she has always loved to bake and stuck to simple sugar cookies with a powdered sugar and water icing before her daughter, Aimee, convinced her to take baking to the next level.
“She really wanted to see if we could do it,” Middleton said.
The personalized cookie trend had just started to become popular in 2014 and, around Christmas, Middleton and Aimee decided to put their baking skills to the test.
“We baked a bunch of Christmas cookies. It took us all week to do them … it just took forever but we enjoyed the time together and then we just enjoyed the process of it.”
The Christmas cookies were enough of a success to prove to Middleton and Aimee that they could turn their hobby into a business. The pair sold their first cookies for Valentine’s Day in 2015. Cutting dough with simple cookie cutters and icing them with a powdered sugar and water icing is a lot different than creating hundreds of identical, custom shapes topped with detailed icing patterns.
Middleton has an impressive way of bringing her cookies to life, having learned many of her skills from various internet sources, specifically YouTube tutorials. She also claimed that she got the hang of baking and decorating her cookies just by “working at it,” and eventually taught herself.
When Middleton first started It’s Dough Time Baby, she was among just a few other custom cookie businesses in Opelika. Since then, more businesses have joined the industry.
What sets her apart from her competitors is the amount of detail she puts into each cookie — and since her daughter moved out of state, she hand makes each one herself. However, Middleton said that having other people join the industry in the area takes some of the load off her.
“I’m really kind of thankful that there are so many people doing it because it takes a lot of pressure off with me. I don’t feel like I’m the only one.”
Even with more businesses popping up, Middleton said, “I’m still busy, as busy as I ever was.”
When it comes to finding inspiration, Middleton said she relies on outlets such as Pinterest and Instagram, but always puts her own spin on it.
Some customers will tell her about the occasion the cookies are for and give her the freedom to create the cookies she wants. Other customers will show her a photo of what they want their cookies to look like and she will use it as a guideline.
“They’ll send me a picture of something they’ve seen on Pinterest or something they’ve seen on Instagram … and most of the time I’ll try and get as close as I can to what they’re looking for, just because I figured that’s what they want, but I change it a little bit because it’s fun.”
Middleton said that the average cookie order consists of two dozen. However, she has completed orders as few as three or orders for a few hundred. She recalls the effort she put into making 125 cookies for the Eagle Scouts and 250 for weddings.
Completing such large orders is time-consuming, especially since Middleton bakes and decorates every cookie herself. And according to her, she does her best work at night.
“I’m not a morning person. I’m a night owl, which works out perfectly … if I get up and try to get busy first thing in the morning, by 10 o’clock I’m done.”
She tries to prepare as much as she can ahead of time. Since every cookie is made from the same dough and the icing has the same base, she is sometimes able to make these in advance. Even with her preparations, Middleton admits she still has nights where she gets into a rhythm and ends up working until the morning. She describes her time working at night as “my time” and finds peace within the walls of her baking nook.
Middleton has an impressive presence on social media with almost 2,000 followers on Instagram and over 2,000 followers on Facebook. She uses these platforms to share incredible photos of cookie creations and engage with her followers. She receives most of her orders via Facebook messenger and the Instagram direct message. She says her photos act as a form of inspiration for her followers to build off her ideas.
Middleton has made almost 1,000 Instagram posts and manages to capture every photo herself — with natural light and an iPhone in “portrait mode.”
Additionally, Middleton belongs to several Facebook groups that offer tips on “sugar cookie marketing” where she has learned several techniques to help her stage her cookies.
When it comes to creating cookies in such unique shapes, Middleton sometimes uses multiple cookie cutters to achieve the right look. For example, she once made cookies for a baby shower and the theme was Cuties oranges. She did not have an orange cookie cutter, so she used a circle and a separate small leaf shape.
With an estimated 1,200 cookie cutter collection, Middleton usually has tools to make just about any cookie her customers request.
Middleton has an incredible passion for what she does, this community and her customers.
Check out the It’s Dough Time Baby Facebook and Instagram pages (@itsdoughtimebaby) and let Judi Middleton bring your wildest cookie dreams to life!