Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting

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!”

overhead image of dark chocolate cupcakes on an orange plate topped with swirls of peanut butter frosting and crushed Reese's Pieces candies

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 brownie recipe and since they’re made with oil, they are much fluffier than our buttery vanilla cupcakesThe 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.)

dark chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting and crushed Reese's Pieces

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 natural cocoa and dutched cocoa. 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.

container of Hershey's special dark cocoa with a tablespoon

dark chocolate cupcake batter in a glass bowl with a whisk

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes: What Works & What Doesn’t

  1. 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.
  2. 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, 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.

peanut butter frosting in a glass bowl

a dark chocolate cupcake with a bite out of it topped with peanut butter frosting

dark chocolate cupcakes on an orange plate topped with swirls of peanut butter frosting and crushed Reese's Pieces candies

More Chocolate and Peanut Butter Treats

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dark chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting and crushed Reese's Pieces

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours, 25 minutes
  • Yield: 12-14 cupcakes
  • Category: Cupcakes
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Rich, moist, and super dark chocolate cupcakes topped with creamy peanut butter frosting and Reese’s Pieces.


Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. Special Tools: KitchenAid Stand Mixer | Cupcake Liners | Cupcake Pan | Frosting Bags | Wilton 1M Frosting Tip | Reese’s Pieces Candy | Hershey’s Cocoa Powder | Pretty Orange Plate
  3. Mini Cupcakes: Fill mini liners only halfway and bake for 10-12 minutes at 350°F (177°C).
  4. Cake: Here’s my chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting recipe!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Why Room Temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.
  8. 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.
  9. Be sure to check out my 10 tips for baking the BEST cupcakes before you begin!

143 Comments

  1. They are regular sized cupcakes. Is it still 18 minutes?

  2. Sally- your recipe says to use Hershey’s Special Dark, but in the notes it says not to use dutch-processed cocoa. The label on the front of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa powder says right underneath “dutched cocoa”. Not sure what to use?

    1. Hi Denise, Hershey’s Special Dark is a combination of natural and dutch process. See the section in the post above called “From Chocolate to DARK Chocolate” for details.

  3. I’m trying the peanut butter frosting and after I incorporate the ingredients, I switch my hand mixer to high and it seems to fluff up…but then as I approach the 3 min mark, the texture seems to lose the fluff and seems creamier. Should I be stopping at the fluffy stage? How do I fix it? I’m intending to use it as a filling between chocolate cake layers.
    Any help would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Jenn, creamy is good! I wouldn’t change anything that you’re doing, but if you prefer the fluffier frosting, you can stop before it reaches that creamy stage.

  4. Hi Sally,

    If I wanted to make this into a cake, what are some modifications you recommend I make?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Kat, This batter makes a perfect three layer 6-inch cake. For directions see my post on 6 inch cakes.

  5. Omg I made these cupcakes today they taste amazing! The peanut butter frosting is light and sweet and the cupcake is rich and so chocolaty! I garnished with crushed Reese’s pieces – fabulous!

  6. SHERYL L DALLABATTISTA says:

    Can you use low-fat buttermilk or does it need to be whole?

    1. Hi Sheryl, low-fat buttermilk works great!

      1. SHERYL L DALLABATTISTA says:

        One more question! Sorry:) Can I use instant coffee instead of expresso?

  7. I don’t want to put oil, can I replace it with butter? Also, buttermilk not available, what can be used to replace that?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sri, I recommend sticking with oil in these cupcakes – it’s a power ingredient providing a lot of moisture to the baked cupcakes. Melted coconut oil works well. You can try replacing with melted butter, but they will taste different. Buttermilk is required for this recipe. You can make your own DIY version of buttermilk if needed, see recipe notes for details.

  8. Madeleine Cogbill says:

    Can you add coffee and/or espresso powder to this cupcake recipe?

  9. Hands down the best chocolate cupcake I have ever tasted. Thanks Sally!

  10. May I use crunchy peanut butter???

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Shikha, You can use crunchy peanut butter in the frosting but if you wish to pipe it you will need a very large open piping tip so that the peanuts don’t get stuck.

  11. Anne Borgatti says:

    Wish I could show you a picture. I made these cupcakes so I could give some to my niece and her boyfriend for his birthday. They were so good. Being fall I was able to use orange and black sprinkles and they came out beautiful.

  12. The taste is great! It’s a very rich chocolate flavor. Made with buttercream frosting. However, for some reason mine fell a bit into the centers even though fully cooked (likely user error)… will try again! The taste was superb. (Buttercream frosting is amazing!!)

  13. Hi Sally!

    I have really loved your recipes and you are definitely one of my goto trusted people as everything I’ve made from you always comes out delicious (without altering anything).

    My question to you is this: I plan on making dark chocolate cupcakes from your recipe here. However, one of my daughters is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, so I never make baked goods with them, as I want all of my family to enjoy the desserts I make. I have been wanting to make a sunbutter frosting instead of peanut butter, but wonder if I will need to adjust/alter anything in the recipe with the substitution. Sunbutter is definitely not as sweet as peanut butter, so I worry if it will be sweet enough (although American butter cream is extremely sweet, so it actually might be a good balance as I generally don’t love ABC because of that). All the recipes I have researched on Sunbutter frosting have me using non-dairy butter and other allergen safe ingredients that I don’t need to worry about. Any suggestions or advice on making a good Sunbutter frosting? Can I just substitute out the peanut butter for an equal amount of sunbutter and keep everything else the same? Thanks!

    1. Hi Melanie! You can use sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter. My recommendation is to make sure it’s room temperature and stirred very well inside the jar. No excess oil. I would use 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup. The frosting is plenty sweet with the confectioners’ sugar. No need to add more, but you certainly can beat more in if you think the frosting needs it. (Taste then add more.)

  14. Would I be able to use this recipe and double it for a cake? I really love the dark chocolate and want to make it has a cake

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kenzie, This batter makes a perfect three layer 6-inch cake. For directions see my post on 6 inch cakes. If you want a larger cake you can use this guide to adapt the recipe.

  15. Amy Lancelle says:

    Wow, Sally. This is sooo good! You should warn people they might want to double the frosting recipe to account for tasting it over and over again before it gets on the cupcakes.

  16. Jennifer Baker 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!

  17. Does anyone know if I can use this frosting for a crumb coat on a cake?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Sure can!

  18. Incredible!!! The cake is super duper chocolate and the PB frosting makes these taste like the best peanut butter cup EVER! Thank you!

  19. 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!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      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.

  20. 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!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      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 🙂

  21. Barbara Stysly says:

    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.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      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!

      1. Trina, the butter was definitely room temp. Could there be another reason?
        Thanks for your reply..

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