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Some move to Florida; some volunteer at the library. But when Judith Norell decided to retire as a concert harpsichordist at age 60, she thought she would try her hand at baking bread.
“I grew up on packaged bread, the kind that stays squeezed when you squeeze it,” she said. “But every Friday night, my mother baked, and she handed me a piece of dough to play with.”
To celebrate her retirement, Ms. Norell started baking at home and selling to parents at her daughter’s school. Soon she found herself an apprenticeship at Amy’s Bread.
“But then no one wanted to hire me,” she said. “They told me, ‘You’re too old; you’re a woman, you should make pastries; you can’t lift a flour sack.’ ”
Ms. Norell took more classes and then fled to Paris, where she trained with the master baker Gérard Mulot. The day after she returned to New York, she was hired at Le Pain Quotidien. It was a start.
But she soon grew bored with the three breads she made there every day, and about a year later she spotted a “For Rent” sign across the street from her building. It was time for her own place. She called the landlord, Georgia Stamoulis.
“I was planning to open a bakery with my cousin but it didn’t happen,” said Ms. Stamoulis, 80. “So I said to Judith, ‘I’ll rent to you if you let me be your partner.’ ”
And in November 2000, Silver Moon Bakery opened its doors at the corner of 105th Street and Broadway. The no-frills shop offers as many as 71 different breads (not all at the same time), including many invented by Ms. Norell, such as an orange-chocolate baguette, corkscrew sourdough rolls and her own version of Bath buns.
“I love holidays because they give me an excuse to experiment,” said Ms. Norell, 77, who often peers into ancient culinary treatises, searching for long-forgotten recipes.
Throughout the day, bakers can be seen from the street, faintly veiled in flour, as they knead dough between a wall of breads and the towering four-deck oven. Miraculously, the roar of the industrial ventilation apparatus doesn’t cover the classical music or the French ballads that float through the bakery.
On a blustery recent Sunday, the line to get in the bakery ran past the door and onto the sidewalk. “There’s always a line,” said Janice Lehmann, 68, who divides her time between New York and Bucks County in Pennsylvania.
On their way to Central Park, baseball bat in tow, Paul Geoghan, a 60-year-old lawyer, watched his son Jesse, 9, wait his turn for a chocolate espresso roll. “It’s become a ritual,” Mr. Geoghan said.
“It’s the best challah ever, and anyone who disagrees is an idiot,” said Joel Napach, 55, as he waited on the bakery stoop with Milo, his white cockapoo. “I don’t get him the dog cookies anymore though.”
The bakery sells nearly 200 challahs a week. “When we started,” Ms. Norell said, “I thought we would sell about 10 cups of coffee a day, but now it’s about 150.”
Alice Attie, 64, an artist who lives across the street, is drawn as much by the variety as by the festive atmosphere. On a recent trip to Silver Moon, she bought some German bread and a ginger muffin for herself in addition to a multigrain loaf for her mother. “Even though this is a community bakery,” she said with the somewhat possessive air of a proud Manhattan Valley local, “it even attracts people from the 80s.”