A layover of a few hours in Madrid can be very well invested, particularly if, as it happened to me, it was in April and not in June. News has it the wait time for passport control at Madrid airport this summer will not allow me to do this again. Or… it will have to be a shorter, but still sweet visit —just like the lemon tart with strawberry cream frosting (or more specifically, the mini tarts) that accompany this post: small and sweet.
I have been wanting to visit the Naval Museum in Madrid for a long time, and more so following the investigation that led me to write my novel Yo fui el primero, about the first circumnavigation of the world completed by Spanish navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano, and whose 500 anniversary we celebrate this year. What would have been a long and boring layover at Barajas Airport became the most interesting in-between-flights experience.
The Naval Museum in Madrid is a jewel for lovers of history and maritime expeditions. Housed in the magnificent Cuartel General de la Armada, the Spanish Navy Headquarters building located in Madrid’s Paseo del Prado, it would be possible to follow Spain’s history through the models, paintings, relics and artifacts it exhibits.
I am not going to pretend to describe it here, or take you on a virtual tour through its rooms, because if you’re really interested in history, in naval history, or in Spain’s history, this should be a compulsory visit if you ever travel to or pass through Madrid. However, I will make a short stop at two of its rooms, the ones that carry the most significance for me at this time, given the subject of my novel.
The first room the visitor encounters when accessing the museum is called The sea in the dawn of Spain, XIII to XV centuries, and it displays the models of the two kinds of boats used in that era, the galleys, long and narrow boats propelled by oars and latin sails, mostly used in the Mediterranean, and the naves mancas, round and tall vessels with no oars, which evolved into the naos and the caravels. Next to the models hang the paintings of Isabella and Ferdinand, Catholic Queen and King who promoted and funded Christopher Columbus’s first trip to the Indies —and therefore the founders of the age of discovery in Spain.
The second room, named The age of exploration, XV and XVI centuries, is the one I spent the most time during my visit. Here you could find the paintings of some of the most notorious navigators of that era, the ones whose trips changed the history of the world. Amongst them, those of Christopher Columbus and the Pinzón brothers with a reproduction of one of the caravels used on their trip to the Indies, which ultimately let to the discovery of America.
But the crown jewel of this room, and maybe that of the museum, is the chart of Juan de la Cosa, the Spanish navigator who also participated in the Columbus trips. This chart, created in 1500 and recently restored, is the oldest known chart that shows a representation of South America.
A larger model of the caravel Santa María in the center of this room led me to what lay behind it: the area dedicated to the first circumnavigation of the world, initially led by Ferdinand Magellan and ultimately completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano.
Next to a smaller model of the nao Victoria, the only one that returned to Spain after having circumnavigated the world, the most famous known paintings of Magellan and Elcano flanked the larger iconic painting of the arrival of Elcano to Sanlúcar de Barrameda on board the nao Victoria on September 6, 1522. And because I didn’t expect to find those items there, my heart jumped, in what others would have called a Stendhal syndrome episode.
After having spent a few years, investigating first and writing next, my novel about the first circumnavigation of the world, being in front of the paintings I had seen so many times in my research produced a magnetic effect in me. I examined every detail, getting closer to watch the tiniest details, backing up to admire them in their entirety. Leaving the room to visit the remaining rooms in the museum, but returning to this second room. Walking down the stairs to leave the museum when time was getting tight to return to the airport for my connecting flight, then walking up the stairs again for one last glance, to soak up a bit more of those pictures I had seen so many times in my investigation, those astrological and astronomical instruments I had talked about in the novel, the model of the boat with the heroes of the first circumnavigation of the world that had survived and returned to Spain to tell their story.
What you can see at the Naval Museum
The museum encompassed other rooms I had to visit hastily due to time constraints, reason enough to grant another visit on a future trip to Spain. Cronologically, these rooms are:
- Where the Sun Never Sets, XVI and XVII centuries
- The Foundation of the Royal Army, XVIII century
- The End of an Empire, XIX century
- The Resurgence of the Spanish Navy, XX and XXI centuries
The rooms showing monographic subjects were also noteworthy, and I know I will be back to visit them with the attention they deserve:
- The Golden Age of Naval Construction in Spain, XVIII century
- The Defense of Commercial Maritime Routes in the XVI and XVII centuries
- Naval Construction in the Age of Steam, 1833 to 1931
- The Spanish Navy today
I accompany this post today with the recipe for lemon tart with strawberry cream frosting, a sweet recipe that mixes two flavors I love in desserts: berries and lemon. I’ve made it in mini tart form and in regular tart size, and the recipe is the same for both. The crust is what we call in Spain “pasta quebrada”, which can be closely described as a short bread pastry: sweet and slightly buttery, firm but crumbly when eaten.
The lemon cream under the strawberry cream frosting marry perfectly, and you could just as well substitute the strawberries with raspberries, because the result will be similarly delicious. Lemon tart with strawberry cream frosting may not be as visually phenomenal as a layer cake (like the mocha cake with espresso cream cheese frosting or the passion fruit and berry cake with mascarpone icing, which you can find in this blog), but its mix of flavors and textures makes it an even more outstanding dessert. Make it and let me know.
About the first circumnavigation of the world:
If you’re interested in learning more about the incredible adventure that was the first circumnavigation of the Earth you can get Yo fui el primero on Amazon, or through these links:
In Spain Yo fui el primero
In USA Yo fui el primero
LEMON TART WITH STRAWBERRY CREAM FROSTING
Tarta de limón con mousse de fresa
- 1 cup butter softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2.5 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp yeast
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice about 3 lemons
- 3 Tbs granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
Strawberry cream frosting:
- 1/2 Lb fresh strawberries
- 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- A variety of berries: blueberries strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
- A few fresh mint leaves
Make the crust:
In the bowl of a stand up mixer, beat the butter with the sugar. Add the egg yolks, the yeast and the salt while continue beating. Sift the flour and add to the mix in 1/2 cup increments, until obtaining a dough that doesn’t stick to the fingers.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 1/4 inch thick large disk (you can do this between two sheets of wax paper or plastic foil). Place in the fridge for 1 hour.
Using the base of the cake pan, place it on top of the sheet of dough, cut out a circle with a knife and ease onto the bottom of the cake pan. Cut out long strips the width of the side of the pan and ease along the inside walls of the pan (for the mini tarts you’ll have to repeat this process for each of the tarts).
Place in the freezer for about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
Place pie weights on top of the unbaked crust and bake for 20 minutes.
Make the lemon custard:
In a small saucepan, heat the lemon juice on medium-low heat and dissolve the sugar. Add the eggs and bring to a boil until the cream slightly thickens.
Dissolve the jelly in 1/4 cup warm water. Add to the lemon cream and remove from the heat source.
Add the white chocolate and the butter and stir with a wisk until creamy.
Pour the lemon custard over the crust and smooth with a spatula. Cover and place in the fridge while making the raspberry frosting.
Make the strawberry cream frosting:
In a food processor, purée the strawberries until smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan, add the sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns darker in color and becomes syrupy, about 10 minutes. Strain through a colander, pressing on any small solids, and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour (or place the saucepan over an ice bath to speed up the process).
Whip the cream until soft peaks form, then reduce the speed to low and slowly stream in the strawberry purée, while continuing to whisk. Make sure the strawberry purée is cold before adding to the cream.
Place the frosting in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.
When ready to serve, fill a plastic piping bag with the frosting. Cut about 1/2 inch off the tip of the bag and pipe the frosting onto the cold lemon cream. Top with fresh berries and a few mint leaves, or with mini cookies made with the dough, like I did.