Combine the water, yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar in a small bowl. Stir just until the yeast is dissolved. Cover with a towel and let stand until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, add the salt, remaining sugar, butter, yeast mixture, and 3 1/2 cups of the flour, and mix. Slowly keep adding more flour (about 1 cup at a time) until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Knead the dough (with your stand mixer, or using your hands) for about 5 minutes. Stop and touch the dough with a clean, dry finger. The dough shouldn't be "sticky", but may barely stick to your finger. Add a little more flour, as needed, until you reach that consistency. Knead for 2-3 more minutes.
Lightly spray another large bowl with nonstick spray and transfer the dough to that bowl. (Flip the dough over once so both sides are coated with spray). Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (I like to cut it with a serrated knife into equal portions. Pick up one section of the dough and pat it down with your hands to remove any air. Use your hands to gently fold the dough into a tight ball. Place the dough ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make a very small "X" slit on the top of the dough rounds with a serrated knife.
Beat an egg with 1 tablespoon of milk to make an egg wash. Lightly Brush the tops of each dough ball with a very thin layer of egg wash.
Cover the rolls really lightly with a piece of plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled, about 30-40 more minutes.
Bakeat 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting for bread bowls.
To Make Ahead: After dough has risen the first time, punch it down in the mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 2 days. When ready to make, remove from the fridge and continue with step 5, dividing the dough. Freezer Instructions:To freeze the dough, punch it down after the first rise and store in an airtight, freezer safe container or bag for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then continue with step 5, dividing the dough. To freeze the baked bread bowls, store them in an airtight, freezer safe container or bag for up to 3 months. Allow them to thaw on the counter and then warm them in the oven before serving.To make crusty Italian Bread Loaves: Divide the dough in half after the first rise, to make two loaves of bread. Brush with egg wash and rise again. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.