Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting
Taking a walk on the dark side today! Chocolate cupcakes are fabulous and all but what about DARK chocolate cupcakes? Dark chocolate cupcakes garnished with the creamiest, dreamiest peanut butter frosting to ever grace your tastebuds and sprinkled with those magical orange, yellow, and brown gems we call Reese’s Pieces.
An intensely flavored moist dark chocolate cupcake, a silky frosting, and a delightful crunch on top. This, my friends, is how you dessert.
If you have a solid “base recipe”, the options are endless. For example, a perfect vanilla cupcake can quickly transform into a peanut butter & jelly cupcake. Or turn into a pistachio cupcake with strawberry frosting. Or, my favorite, a coconut and caramel filled variation. We all know the saying if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But, by all means, jazz things up a bit!! And that’s exactly what we’re doing today. I made a batch of my super moist chocolate cupcakes, intensified the chocolate flavor, and topped with something all of us peanut butter aficionados can appreciate. Totally appropriate for your Monday morning, no?
From Chocolate to DARK Chocolate
Instead of using unsweetened natural cocoa powder, I reached for a darker cocoa powder instead. Hershey’s makes a “special dark” cocoa powder that has a deep, dark, and bold chocolate flavor. I love adding a spoonful of it to a blender with 1 frozen banana and a splash of almond milk. Tastes like a Wendy’s frosty, I swear. Have you ever seen Hershey’s special dark on shelves?
Here’s something interesting, though. (Those nerd glasses on?) Hershey’s special dark contains both natural and dutched cocoa powder– it’s a blend of both. As you know, there’s a huge difference between natural cocoa and dutched cocoa. And I never suggest substituting. You can read all that nerdy stuff right over here if you’re interested.
So this makes that cocoa powder a little tricky to use in baking. But but but! I’ve actually had a lot of success swapping it in recipes like cookies and cupcakes. And this cocoa powder tastes phenomenal in today’s cupcakes.
Not only are we using a darker, richer cocoa– we’re also adding a smidge of espresso powder (or instant espresso) to the cupcakes as well. Why? To intensify that gorgeous chocolate flavor. If you don’t like coffee, you’re in the clear because these cupcakes do not taste like coffee. You can’t taste the espresso because all it’s doing is bringing the chocolate flavor to the forefront. Trust me on this one! Kevin loathes coffee (he calls it “burnt dirt”) and didn’t detect any coffee flavor.
Bottom line: the espresso powder is optional, but heavily recommended to really get that dark chocolate flavor.
Besides the cocoa powder swap and instant espresso addition, the recipe is identical to my favorite chocolate cupcakes. This means we’re still using buttermilk and oil for a super moist texture. And we’re only filling the cupcake liners halfway full. Why?
It will make or break your recipe!
Halfway full. Not 2/3, not 3/4, not all the way to the top. If you fill the liners too full, the cupcakes will overflow. You’ll be left with crisp mushroom tops and a sunken center. Halfway full! Halfway full! How full? Halfway full! 🙂
Moving onto that peanut butter frosting…
This peanut butter frosting is the creamiest. It tastes like a spoonful of pure peanut butter with a fluffier, silkier texture. You know how most frostings are overly sweet? Like, they make a candy store seem like a bland salad? That’s not the case here. All you taste is peanut butter. Which makes sense because it’s mostly all peanut butter. Only 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar instead of the usual 5, 6, or 7 cups. It’s peanut-butter-perfect.
My #1 tip for the peanut butter frosting: make sure you use a commercial brand peanut butter, not natural or homemade. There’s a lot of separating and texture issues if you use an oily, natural, or homemade peanut butter. I like Jif or Skippy.
Fact: crushing Reese’s Pieces turns them into Reese’s Pieces sprinkles. And I love how festive and Halloweenie they are, too.
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting
- 3/4 cup (95g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 1/2 cup (42g) Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder*
- 1 teaspoon espresso powder or instant espresso*
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature*
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (100g) packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (80ml) vegetable or canola oil (or melted coconut oil)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
Peanut Butter Frosting
- 5 Tablespoons (75g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup (250g) creamy peanut butter
- 1 cup (120g) confectioners' sugar
- 1/3 cup (80ml) heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- optional: crushed Reese's Pieces for topping
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. Line a second pan with 2 liners - this recipe makes about 14 cupcakes. Set aside.
- Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla together until completely smooth. Pour half of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Then half of the buttermilk. Gently whisk for a few seconds. Repeat with the remaining wet ingredients and buttermilk. Stir until *just* combined; do not overmix. The batter will be thin.
- Pour or spoon the batter into the liners. Fill only halfway (this is imperative! only halfway!) to avoid spilling over the sides or sinking. Bake for 18-21 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
- Make the frosting: With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the peanut butter, confectioners' sugar, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes. Add up to 1/4 cup more confectioners' sugar if frosting is too thin or another Tablespoon of cream if frosting is too thick.
- Frost cooled cupcakes. I used a Wilton 1M piping tip. Top with crushed Reese's Pieces, if desired. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
Make ahead tip: Prepare cupcakes 1 day in advance. Keep cupcakes covered tightly at room temperature and frost the day of serving. Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before frosting and serving.
Interested in mini cupcakes? Fill mini liners only halfway and bake for 10-12 minutes at 350°F (177°C).
Interested in making a cake? Here's my chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting recipe!
*I don't recommend using dutch-process cocoa in this cupcake recipe. If you can't get your hands on Hershey's special dark variety, use regular unsweetened natural cocoa powder.
*The espresso powder/instant espresso doesn't create a coffee flavored cupcake. Rather, it strongly intensifies the chocolate flavor! If you can't find espresso powder, use 1 Tablespoon dark roast instant coffee.
*Why room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information. If needed, you can use whole milk mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar or fresh lemon juice instead of buttermilk. Fill a measuring cup with the lemon juice/vinegar then the rest with whole milk to reach 1/2 cup.
Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking the BEST cupcakes before you begin!
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