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 brownie 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 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.
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, 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
- Peanut Butter Pie
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting
- Peanut Butter Cupcakes
- No Bake Cookies
- Peanut Butter Bars
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 | Frosting Bags | Wilton 1M Frosting Tip | Reese’s Pieces Candy | Hershey’s Cocoa Powder | Pretty Orange Plate
- 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 here for more information.
- 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!