Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm milk in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 3 cups flour and egg to milk mixture, stirring until smooth; cover and let stand 15 minutes.
Add 3/4 cup flour and salt; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent the dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky).
Place the dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees F), free from drafts, for 40 minutes or until doubled in size. (Press two fingers into the dough. If an indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest for 5 minutes.
Divide dough into 16 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), shape each portion into desired form. Place shaped dough portions on each of 2 baking sheets lightly sprinkled with 1/2 teaspoon cornmeal. Lightly coat shaped dough portions with cooking spray; cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place (85 degrees F), free from drafts, 20 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Gently brush dough portions with butter; sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired. Place 1 baking sheet on bottom oven rack and 1 baking sheet on middle oven rack. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes; rotate baking sheets. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until lightly browned on top and hollow-sounding when tapped on bottom. Place on wire racks. Serve warm, or cool completely on wire racks.
Recipe reprinted by permission of © Cooking Light Magazine. All rights reserved.