Smalls had never had rugelach -- a bite-sized Ashkenazi Jewish flaky pastry, swirled with fillings like chocolate or cinnamon sugar nuts -- until working at New York-Presbyterian (“they don’t have that in the South,” he says) but he fell in love with it immediately. In 1964, he saw a rugelach recipe in a newspaper and set it aside, only to find it again in the late ‘70s. Smalls began to play around with the recipe, adding and swapping out ingredients as he would with other recipes he learned at work.
“The recipe was there, but I changed it around, played with it, I added a lot do it, and I’m blessed it came out this way,” Smalls says. Some modifications included swapping out sour cream for cream cheese and using real butter instead of margarine. Smalls won’t share more of his baking secrets on the record, but he says the key is using high-quality ingredients, like his “special flour,” (he won’t say what it is), good walnuts, and pure apricot jam for filling, building on traditional fillings but with his own twist and emphasis on quality ingredients.