In a medium bowl, whisk together first four dry ingredients and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter until soft, add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla, and optional flavoring, and mix until well combined. Add dry ingredients and mix on low until dough is completely mixed, scraping down dough as needed.
Divide dough in half. Roll each piece of dough between two sheets of parchment into rectangles, approximately ¼” thick. Place dough with parchment paper on cookie sheets and chill in the refrigerator until firm, or in the freezer about 15 minutes.
PREP HARD CANDY:
Separate hard candy into piles of like colors. Leaving candy inside the wrapper, use a wooden mallet or heavy object and gently hit candy in the center; this should break up the candies. Do this for each pile of colors. Cut off the tops of wrappers, and carefully set back into a bowl (do not empty out of the individual packages yet). Do this with all the colors; you want to easily be able to pour candies into window area of cookie as quickly as possible.
CUTTING THE SHAPES:
Remove dough from refrigerator. Cut out cookies with a cookie cutter, then go back and cut out the middles (you can use a smaller cookie cutter), creating a window in the center of the cookie. Place cookies on the parchment. Chill in the refrigerator to firm up again. Repeat process with second piece of dough, and refrigerate.
Pre-heat oven to 350°. When dough is chilled, place large cookies with window on parchment covered cookie sheet (no more than 6 to 8 cookies per sheet). Re-roll the cut outs and create additional large cookies on a separate sheet of parchment. Cookies will bake more evenly when they are approximately the same size with space between each. For a shiny sparkly look, brush cookies with egg wash and sprinkle with large crystal sugar.
CREATING THE STAINED GLASS:
Bake 1 cookie sheet at a time for 9 or 10 minutes. Cookies will not be totally baked at this point. Remove from oven and working quickly, fill the cut out window in the cookie with one color of crushed Lifesavers (pieces are okay). Fill window full, but do not sprinkle on cookie dough itself; candies will melt flat. Work quickly, so sheet pan stays hot and the candy melts quickly. Put back in the oven for another 4 to 5 minutes, until candy is melted flat. Remove from oven. Do not remove from parchment until totally cooled. Repeat until all cookies are baked.
Put a small hole in the cookie rim before baking. Later add a string to hang them with.
Do NOT do on a rainy day, the candy may not set-up completely or stay sticky.
You can have the dough cut out and ready to bake and fill. Just keep tightly wrapped in refrigerator or freezer; let come to room temperature before filling and baking.
CHEFS NOTE: Some candies stick to the teeth more than other; we used Lifesavers, peppermints, coffee, cinnamon and strawberry hard candies. You'll have to experiment with your favorite flavors.
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