These dark chocolate cupcakes feature intensely flavored sponge-like chocolate cupcakes, a silky peanut butter frosting, and a delightful Reese’s Pieces crunch on top.
One reader, Jennifer, says: “These were phenomenal! I made them for a birthday party and shared some with coworkers (I frosted them at work before the party). One of my coworkers ate the leftover frosting from the bowl with a spoon. Your recipes are perfect and trustworthy-thank you!”
Readers have called these dark chocolate cupcakes a chocolate and peanut butter lover’s dream dessert! All we did here was make a batch of these super moist chocolate cupcakes, intensify the chocolate flavor, and top with something all of us peanut butter aficionados can appreciate.
Tell Me About These Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
- Texture: The dark chocolate cupcake’s texture is soft, airy, and sponge-y– not at all dense like our homemade brownies recipe and since they’re made with oil, they are much fluffier than our buttery vanilla cupcakes. The frosting is incredibly creamy. In fact, we like to compare it to a spoonful of pure peanut butter but with a fluffier, silkier texture.
- Flavor: The cupcakes offer a rich dark chocolate flavor and what we love most about the frosting is that it’s not overly sweet. 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.
- Ease: There’s really nothing complicated in this recipe besides making sure you have the right cocoa powder. If you can’t find Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder, just use regular natural unsweetened cocoa powder. (The cupcakes will still have an intense chocolate flavor, similar to our chocolate cake.)
Choosing the Right Ingredients
- Dark cocoa: Instead of using unsweetened natural cocoa powder, we reached for a darker cocoa powder instead. Hershey’s makes a “special dark” cocoa powder that has a deep, dark, and bold chocolate flavor. Have you ever seen Hershey’s special dark on shelves? Here’s something interesting, though. 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 Dutch process vs. natural cocoa powder. And we never suggest substituting, but this recipe is an exception.
- Espresso powder: We’re adding a little espresso powder (or instant espresso) to the dark chocolate cupcakes. Why? Because it intensifies that gorgeous chocolate flavor. We do this with chocolate cake and brownie cookies, too. 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. Bottom line: the espresso powder is optional, but heavily recommended to really get that dark chocolate flavor.
- Buttermilk + oil: When it comes to chocolate cupcakes, these two power ingredients promise a moist texture. (If you’ve tried the regular chocolate cupcakes, then you know! The recipe is identical except for the two ingredient changes above.)
- Sprinkles: Crushing Reese’s Pieces turns them into Reese’s Pieces “sprinkles.” You can certainly skip them or garnish the cupcakes with sprinkles or even crushed peanuts instead.
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes: What Works & What Doesn’t
- Only fill the cupcake liners 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 and you’ll be left with crisp mushroom tops and a sunken center.
- My #1 tip for the peanut butter frosting. Make sure you use a processed peanut butter, not natural or homemade. While I love cooking with and eating natural style peanut butters (or even using them in my favorite peanut butter cookies from time to time), they just aren’t ideal in frosting because they tend to separate from the butter. I usually use Jif or Skippy for this frosting. You can also find peanut butter frosting on these peanut butter & jelly cupcakes and these snickers cupcakes.
More Chocolate and Peanut Butter Treats
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
- Peanut Butter Pie
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting
- Peanut Butter Cupcakes
- No Bake Cookies
- Peanut Butter Bars
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours, 25 minutes
- Yield: 12-14 cupcakes
- Category: Cupcakes
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: American
Rich, moist, and super dark chocolate cupcakes topped with creamy peanut butter frosting and Reese’s Pieces.
- 3/4 cup (94g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 1/2 cup (41g) 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 pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 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 Instructions: 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.
- Special Tools: KitchenAid Stand Mixer | Cupcake Liners | Cupcake Pan | Reusable Piping Bags or Disposable Piping Bags | Wilton 1M Frosting Tip | Reese’s Pieces Candy | Hershey’s Cocoa Powder
- Mini Cupcakes: Fill mini liners only halfway and bake for 10-12 minutes at 350°F (177°C).
- Cake: Here’s my chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting recipe!
- Cocoa Powder: 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.
- Espresso 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 more about the importance of room temperature ingredients.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk is required for this recipe. You can make your own DIY version of buttermilk if needed. Add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1/2 cup. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cupcakes won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.
- Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking the BEST cupcakes before you begin!
Keywords: Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting
Reader Comments & Reviews
I made these for a co-workers birthday. The cupcake turned out slightly crumbly but otherwise they were a big hit. The frosting is really what makes these so yummy. One co-worker said he would trade his first born child for the frosting recipe!
Thank you so much for all the wonderful recipes! You’re my go to when looking for something special. Don’t think that there is anything that you’ve never made! I made your creamy peanut butter frosting for chocolate cupcakes and it was excellent. I do weigh all of my ingredients so I appreciate the weighs. Question…on the cake recipe, you gave a weight but also stated” spoon & level” and I just wondered why? I that for people that don’t have a kitchen scale? Thanks again for all of your great recipes.
Hi Dawn! Yes, using the spoon and level method is best for bakers who don’t weigh their ingredients. So glad you’re enjoying our recipes!
If using regular unsweetened cocoa instead of dark, would you still recommend adding the espresso to bring out the chocolate flavor or would you be able to taste the coffee?
Hi Rya, We still recommend using the espresso powder, it won’t taste like coffee.
I would like to make this into a cake, specifically a 2 layer 9 inch, as that is the pans I have available. I know you have other chocolate cake recipes, but my husband specifically requested dark chocolate. Is there enough batter for this? Or will I need 2 batches? Also, do you think I’ll have enough frosting?
Thanks so much, always love everything I make of yours!
Hi Joyce! This won’t be enough batter for a two layer 9 inch cake. We recommend following this dark chocolate peanut butter cake recipe instead. If you only have two cake pans, you can leave 1/3 of the batter covered at room temperature while you bake the other two layers. Hope it’s a hit!
I found the Hershey Special Dark Cocoa that contains both natural and Dutched cocoas on Amazon except they sell in bulk and pricey too. Is that the correct kind to use in this recipe? I don’t mind to get it but can you also direct me to some of your recipes possibly that I can use with this type of cocoas so I can make use of these many containers. Thank you very much!
Hi Elizabeth, That is the correct type – see the section “Choosing the right ingredients” in the post above. We love these dark chocolate cookies that use it also!
The cupcakes came out really good!! Eventhough I made it for the first time, I trusted the recipe (and the author of course!) since I had used these recipes before and everything came out PERFECT! I can’t believe how well and precise the instructions are! Thank you so much for sharing these recipes!! God bless you!
Fabulous! I only had fully dutched cocoa not Special Dark but they came out perfectly moist. The icing is terrific. The flavor of the cupcake part was actually even better the second day and still just as moist.
I have made this recipe multiple times and it’s AMAZING. One time I didn’t have Hershey’s dark and they were noticeably not as delicious, but it’s still chocolate and peanut butter so obviously still yummy.
I want to make these for my birthday this year to be served on a Saturday, but I won’t be available at all on Friday to prep them. Can I make the batter and frosting on Thursday then bake and frost on Saturday morning? Would anything go wrong with the batter sitting in the fridge for 48 hours before baking?
Hi Britta! We don’t recommend baking the batter ahead of time. The leaveners are activated once the wet and dry ingredients are mixed together, and it’s best to bake it right away. You could bake the cupcakes and make the frosting on Thursday, store both in the refrigerator, and then frost Saturday morning before your party. Hope this helps!
That is exactly why I was asking so thank you for your help!
I love this recipe so much.
I have to make 50 cupcakes. What do you think is the best way to go about it?
Hi Jen, this recipe yields 12-14 cupcakes, so you will need 4-5 batches to get the 50 needed. We recommend separate batches rather than doubling, tripling, etc.
Ok , I have made these cup cakes two more times and figured out to use a large cookie scoop to measure the batter and make 17-18 cupcakes. They came out perfect. Thanks or a yummy recipe!
Taste wonderful but I divided into 14 cups and I got the muffin tops and sunk middles. I measured/ weighed everything.. all room temperature. Guess I’ll fill them in with frosting.
The icing turned out amazing! But the cupcake part did not taste that great it tasted kind of like raisins……where could I have gone wrong?
Hi Sally – The Special Dark Hershey’s says “dutched cocoa” on it, is this not the same as dutch processed? Confused by the destinction.
Hi Tara! Yes, dutched cocoa is the same as dutch processed.
I have used this recipe time and time again while referencing the 6 inch cake article as well… But I have a request to make this as a 3 layer 9 inch cake. I will make the batter twice over and use extra for bonus cupcakes… But the integrity of the actual recipe should still be OK in a bigger pan? (Obviously with bake times adjusted). It was such a huge hit with both the molten cookie dough frosting and salted caramel when made for non-peanut butter lovers. So delicious!
Hi Nicole! Yes, the batter should hold up well as a 9 inch cake. You may also love our recipes for a full sized Triple Chocolate Cake.
I am not quite sure what espresso powder is. I have regular ground espresso beans. Could I use that?
This recipe says it yields 12-24 cupcakes, this is a big range. How many standard size cupcakes would this yeild?
Hi Jasmine, this recipe yields 12-14 cupcakes.
Hi Sally, I made the cupcakes this morning and they look great. However, by the time my frosting reached the 3 minute mark on the mixer it looked curdled. The only substitution I made was half and half for the heavy cream, as that was all I had. Could this be the reason for the strange consistency? I’ve thrown out the icing and sent my husband to the store for heavy cream. lol Hope it will work! I love your recipes, and this is the first time I’ve ever had a problem. Thanks so much.
Hi Barbara! Usually curdled buttercream is a temperature issue. Make sure to use proper room temperature butter – here’s what room temperature butter really means!
Trina, the butter was definitely room temp. Could there be another reason?
Thanks for your reply..
These are perfection, and that means something from Peanut Butter Chocolate’s Number One Fan. lol Thank you for another excellent and easy to follow recipe!
I added Reese’s Pieces and I think it should not be skipped. They make a delicious cupcake even better.
Hi! My cupcakes turned out to be more of a muffin texture, any idea where I could have gone wrong? Other than that, I loved these!
Hi Lexa! Thanks for giving these cupcakes a try. The lack of a light and fluffy texture could be due to many factors including the batter being over-mixed or not using proper room temperature ingredients (cupcakes are delicate!). This post with cupcake baking tips should be helpful for next time 🙂
These are gross and a waste of ingredients. Now I have 12 cupcakes no one wants to eat. Zero star recipe. I don’t get why this is so highly rated when I searched for a recipe. Didn’t change a thing or substitute any ingredients.
I have King Arthur dark cocoa. Can I use a mix of this and non-Dutch processed cocoa for this recipe? Do you have any recipes that use dark cocoa? I’ve never used it before and I’m hesitant to try other people’s recipes as I have had such a great experience with yours. Thanks!
Hi Leslie! That’s a Dutch-process cocoa, correct? We 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 for this recipe. You could try these chocolate cupcakes with mint chocolate frosting instead (swap frostings if you’d like). They aren’t quite as moist as these.
I don’t understand your response here. You said you DONT recommend dutch processed cocoa for this recipe but the recipe calls for hersehys special dark cocoa which IS a dutch cocoa.
Hi Katie, Hershey’s special dark contains both natural and dutched cocoa powder – it’s a blend of both. If you can’t find this blend, we recommend sticking with natural unsweetened cocoa powder.
Incredible!!! The cake is super duper chocolate and the PB frosting makes these taste like the best peanut butter cup EVER! Thank you!