Finalist: Cinnamon Bun Cookies

Baker: Patrice Hurd of Bemidji, Minn.

Heritage hit: Yes, a cookie that looks and tastes like a cinnamon bun, one that blossomed out of Hurd's Finnish grandmother's reputation as "queen of the cinnamon bun." "You walked into her house and the countertops and table were covered with them," Hurd said. "She baked. She shared. It was a communal experience."

Making it her own: When a cinnamon bun cookie craze rolled across the nation's baking consciousness a few years ago, Hurd was all for it. "Everyone can relate to a cinnamon roll," she said. "I know I can." The problem was that she never found a recipe that worked. "So I kind of developed my own," Hurd said. Turns out, creating recipes is second nature to Hurd. A well-known presence on the recipe contest circuit, she has three Pillsbury Bake-Offs under her apron, and has won fame, fortune ($25,000 for a cranberry scone recipe) and trips to New York, Chicago, Orlando, Napa Valley and other destinations. "It's a fun hobby," she said.

Immediate impact: Hurd and her family have a strict regimen of tried-and-true holiday cookie favorites, and the roster seldom if ever varies from December to December. "We're very picky about them, and everyone has their favorite," she said. There's usually space for one newcomer every year, but most don't make a second appearance. Cinnamon Bun Cookies did. "It's a hard thing to crack into our holiday cookie tray, but this one now has a permanent place on it," she said.

Insider's tip: Because cinnamon is the recipe's centerpiece ingredient ("To me, there is nothing like the smell of cinnamon," Hurd said), she splurges on Vietnamese Extra Fancy ground cinnamon at Penzeys (three Twin Cities area locations, "I think it really makes a difference," she said. "It's the fragrance, it's the color, it's the taste, it's everything." Hurd also lessens holiday baking stress by preparing cookie doughs in advance and freezing them. "This is one of those doughs," she said. "You roll it, you stick it in the freezer, and it's so easy to bake."