By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Nov 29, 2012 at 8:59 AM Photography:

Who doesn't get just a little bit excited at the thought of baking up a batch of grandma's molasses cookies around the holidays? And whose inner child doesn't revel at the thought of decorating a few batches of gingerbread people, even if they turn out a little bit crooked?

But then again, very few of us expect our cookies to receive city-wide accolades.

That's why when Milwaukeean Anna Baird-Luedke created her recipe for chewy white chocolate chip gingerbread cookies, she had no idea they would end up being served at area restaurants, including Mason Street Grill, Kil@wat and Milwaukee Chophouse.

"It was inspired by a recipe for gingerbread waffles I had made," Baird-Luedke recalls. "They had an amazing flavor that was better than I ever had in a gingerbread cookie, so I set out to make a cookie based on them."

Baird-Luedke's cookies were a hit with her family and friends. But it wasn't until she received an email from Marcus announcing the Milwaukee's Favorite Cookie Contest that she decided to share her recipe with the world.

This year, Marcus Hotels & Resorts has again put out the request to Milwaukeeans to submit their very best cookie recipes for the fourth annual Milwaukee's Favorite Cookie Contest.

Baird-Luedke's decision was a game-changer. In addition to having her cookie declared "Best Cookie in Milwaukee," Baird-Luedke also received a special overnight stay and dinner for two at The Pfister. A large batch of her cookies was also baked up and delivered to appreciative families at Hope House, an emergency and transitional living facility for families in need.

"It was an honor to know my cookies would be shared as holiday treats for the individuals using the organization's services," Baird-Luedke says. "The cookies were also served at some of the Marcus restaurants in the month of January, which was also exciting."

In 2012, the winning baker will receive a special one-on-one baking lesson with Pfister Pastry Chef Jennifer Carlson, an overnight hotel stay and dinner for two at The Pfister Hotel, InterContinental Milwaukee or Hilton Milwaukee City Center and a $150 Pick 'n Save gift card courtesy of Roundy's Supermarkets, Inc.

The winning cookie will be featured during the month of January 2013 in Marcus' Milwaukee restaurants – Mason Street Grill, Kil@wat and Milwaukee ChopHouse. Marcus will also bake and donate 500 of the winning cookies to Hope House for a second year in a row.

"We are delighted to receive this wonderful donation again," said Ken Schmidt, executive director of Hope House. "Our guests just loved the cookies last year. Even a gift so seemingly simple as cookies can make a big impact around the holidays."

Chef Robert Fedorko, executive chef for Marcus' Milwaukee market and one of the judges for the 2012 cookie competition, says he always looks forward to the holiday baking season.

"The holiday season presents so many treats that we don't have the opportunity to enjoy any other time of the year," he says. "It gives us all a good excuse to over indulge – and make up for it with a new year's resolution."

And Fedorko is right. The holidays are the perfect time for baking – and for sharing. So, we asked him if he had a favorite cookie recipe he might want to share.

"Do I have to pick just one?" he asked.

Turns out that one of his favorites are the sort of cookie we all grew up eating. Tea cookies, also known as snowball cookies, are deliciously nutty morsels, baked until crisp and bathed in powdered sugar.

"I also like pizzelle cookies," Fedorko admits. "It's a traditional cookie that has always been present during the holidays. I also like just about any cookie that Sciortino's makes for the holidays. Italian Christmas cookies are my favorite."

But, your cookie recipe won't have to be Italian to win Fedorko's affections. In fact, he says that the criteria for judging cookie submissions will be based on numerous factors, including overall impression, uniqueness, creativity, and consumer appeal.

"We will be looking for something unique and with great holiday spirit," Fedorko says.

So visit the Marcus Restaurants Facebook page and enter your best cookie recipe. You have until Monday, Dec. 10 at 11:59 p.m. to submit your entry.

In the meantime, maybe bake up a batch of these babies for inspiration.

Snowball cookies
from Chef Robert Fedorko

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups finely chopped pecans
¼ cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
powdered sugar for dusting

Heat oven to 325°F.

Combine all ingredients except powdered sugar in large mixer bowl.

Beat at low speed with a hand beater or in the bowl of a mixer, scraping bowl occasionally, for 2-3 minutes until well mixed.

Using a teaspoon, scoop a generous spoonful of dough and shape into rounded ball of dough approximately 1 inch in diameter each.

Place dough balls 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until very lightly browned.

Cool 5 minutes; roll in powdered sugar while still warm. For added flavor, roll cookies once more in sugar when cool.

Click here for Anna Baird-Luedke's white chocolate chip chewy gingerbread cookies.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.