Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. And four finalists. And they’re terrific.

Thanks to the bakers who submitted recipes to the 14th annual Taste Holiday Cookie Contest. We sifted through 284 submissions and ultimately selected 17 semifinalists. At a high-stakes taste-off on Oct. 28 — captured by Star Tribune video journalist Shari Gross — we nibbled, discussed and finally selected our gotta-bake winner and four equally impressive finalists.

The venue? The baking classroom at Art Institutes International Minnesota in downtown Minneapolis, where a talented team of current and former students and staffers — led by Amy Carter and Jessica Bartl — pitched in to bake all 17 recipes.

Our panel? Taste editor Lee Svitak Dean, Star Tribune restaurant critic Rick Nelson, cookbook author (and Taste contributor) Meredith Deeds and 2010 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest winner Scott Rohr (he of Pistachio Orange Cookies fame). Scott’s visiting-from-Denver boyfriend Mark Lewis also joined in.

We can’t wait to publish the results on Dec. 1 in Taste. In the meantime, here are two events to place on your calendar: Plan to visit #StribHQ in downtown Minneapolis on Dec. 1 and taste the winning cookie and four finalists at a fun and free event. On Dec. 3, meet-and-greet our winning bakers — and sample their baking handiwork — at the Mill City Museum in downtown Minneapolis on Dec. 3. 

@RickNelsonStrib