Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting

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

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.

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

If you have a solid “base recipe”, the options are endless. For example, perfect vanilla cupcakes 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.

container of Hershey's special dark cocoa with a tablespoon

dark chocolate cupcake batter in a glass bowl with a whisk

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. We do this with chocolate cake, 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. 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…

peanut butter frosting in a glass bowl

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

This is the best peanut butter frosting I’ve ever had. In fact, I even created a separate post for it in the frosting section.

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.

You can also find my peanut butter frosting on these pb&j cupcakes and these snickers cupcakes.

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

Fact: crushing Reese’s Pieces turns them into Reese’s Pieces sprinkles. And I love how festive and Halloweenie they are, too.

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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


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 (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 pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • optional: crushed Reese’s Pieces for topping


  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.


  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!


  1. These look PHENOMENAL!! I actually have some Hershey’s special dark, I’m glad this recipe uses it because it’s hard to find the pure dark!!

    1. Let me know if you try them sometime!

  2. Jenny from jennyisbaking.com says:

    Sally, your super moist chocolate cupcakes are one of my favorite cupcakes, so I am sure that combing them with peanut butter frosting will be phenomenal. However, I will have to substitute for regular unsweetened cocoa powder. At least I managed to find some of that here in Germany as usually only Dutch-process is sold. So going to try this recipe!!!!

    1. Try King Arthur Flour website.The Triple Cocoa Blend might work for you in place of Hersey’s Dark

    2. Adding that little bit of espresso powder will deepen the chocolate flavor, even if you use regular natural cocoa powder 🙂 I think you’ll love them!

  3. Patricia @Sweet and Strong says:

    YUM!  Once I’m over my halloween candy coma I need to make these ASAP.  Chocolate and PB will forever be one of my favorite combos!

  4. Anna Heiliger says:

    Yum! I’ve been using Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa for years! I adore it! In fact, I made your Triple Chocolate Layer Cake for a party this weekend and bought regular Hershey’s cocoa powder especially for it for the first time in probably 5 years! I successfully sub the Dark cocoa into every recipe, but your repeated warnings in that recipe post scared me into submission and I bought the normal cocoa LOL! Can’t wait to try this PB frosting!

    1. You know, I’ve never tried that cake recipe with Hershey’s Special Dark. If anything, I would use 1/2 of the regular natural and half special dark and see how that goes!! 

  5. Sally, these photos are absolutely magical…and they’re making me drool.

    1. Thanks Aimee!

  6. This is my very favorite combo.  I actually tell people I want chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting for my birthday.  They ordered me one at work this year =)  Yours would be way better I am certain!!!!!!!  Thanks, Sally!  I also adore Hershey’s Dark cocoa.  I’ve run out and Target by me does not carry it.  Time to head to another grocery store, lol!

    1. I always find it at my regular grocer, so hopefully you can get your hands on another box of it!

  7. Sally, this is definitely appropriate for a Monday morning! Looking forward to baking these! These look delicious!

    1. Let me know if/when you try them!

  8. I cannot wait to try this recipe…specially the frosting. The combination of chocolate and PB is always so yummy. For those folks who cannot find Hershey’s Dark, the King Arthur Flour website has a product called Triple Cocoa Blend. It is a combination of natural, Dutch and black cocoas. A 16 oz bag sells for $12.95. The info on the bag suggests it can be used in recipes that call for either natural or dutch process cocoa. 
    I hope you are enjoying lots of snuggles with your sweet little Noelle Elizabeth.

    1. I’m intrigued to try that cocoa powder!

  9. Laura @ The Bluenose Baker says:

    I’ve tried making most of Sally’s cupcakes dairy free, using soy or rice milk. Frosting is harder, it’s definitely not the same, but I use Earth Balance margarine and soy milk. I’ve never tried coconut oil for frosting, but coconut cream would probably be fine.

    I was all set to make funfetti cupcakes this morning and now I’m having a tough time deciding!

    1. Thanks for helping to answer this question, Laura! 

      Miriam, I know melted coconut oil works in the cupcake recipe. And coconut milk should be just fine in the cupcake recipe itself too– but the frosting may be tricky. I’ve never had luck with nondairy frosting. 

  10. I always learn something new from your posts. I never bothered to read the ingredients of the special dark cocoa.  Now, I am the same way with my red velvet cake cupcakes… only fill half full because they rise too much. Thank you for this yummy recipe and the peanut butter frosting…..oh my! 

  11. Well isn’t this the best post for a Monday morning! These just skyrocketed to the top of my “must bake” list 😉 Especially since my hubby loves homemade chocolate cupcakes and anything peanut butter!

  12. I was actually just thinking earlier this morning how to use up some of my Reese’s pieces I had leftover from my last baking session. These look tempting. Thanks for the post. 🙂

  13. Oh, YUM! I love making Nutella swirl cupcakes and topping them with peanut butter frosting- I can’t wait to try this version!

    1. Nutella swirl cupcakes? YUM!!!

  14. Wow, Sally, just wow. These cupcakes look oh so decadent but amazing! I have to try them. And you’re right – they look perfect for Halloween.  Can always decorate them with some of those leftover Reese’s cups after Halloween’s over 😉 

    1. Now that would be a delicious way to use leftover candy!

  15. Holy cow! These cupcakes look amazing!


    1. Hope you try them, Paige!

  16. Yum! Everyone else in my house is allergic to these, so I must find someone to make these for. I love coffee, too. My husband calls it burnt bean juice.

    1. Hahaha sounds like our husbands would get along.

  17. Perfect timing on this, last week I was looking at the dark chocolate cocoa powder and wondering when you ever need something like that. These sound and look incredible!! (I may have to try that smoothie idea, too!)

    1. You must!! It seriously tastes like a wendy’s frosty.

  18. These looks soo yummy–my mouth is watering as I am reading this. Even though I love pumpkin recipes during the fall time, its a nice shake up for individuals that aren’t into those spices but keeps with the Halloween color scheme. Thanks!

    1. Yes, there is always room on our dessert table for pumpkin AND chocolate peanut butter 😉

  19. Wow! Can’t wait to try them…they look delicious! 😀

  20. These look divine Sally. I love using a little espresso in chocolate cakes – it really does work a treat to intensify the chocolate-yness 🙂

  21. I absolutely loveeeeee your perfect chocolate cupcakes. Just can’t wait to try this one. The combination of peanut butter and dark chocolate sounds heavenly.
    I live in Sydney, Australia and it’s difficult to find Hershey’s dark chocolate powder in our supermarkets here. I just get the cadbury one.
    Do u think this would work as well? What are the ingredients I need to look for?
    Would really appreciate your input here Sally 🙂

    1. Is the cadbury cocoa dutched cocoa? It would say on the container/box. If not, you can absolutely use it!

  22. Kayle (The Cooking Actress) says:

    yes these are totally my kind of cupcake!!!!! My absolute favorite <3

  23. Can you substitute sun butter (sunflower) or wow butter (soy)  for the peanut butter in the frosting?  My little one as a severe allergy 

    Also do you know if Hersey’s dark cocoa is peanut safe (There should be a warning label if it was manufactured in a factory that processes peanuts)?  I can’t buy it where I live and don’t want to order online if it’s not safe for my little guy.

    1. You should be able to substitute another type of nut-free-butter as long as it’s the same consistency (not oily). I’m not sure about Hershey’s cocoa and allergies but I would check on their website to be sure!

  24. Sally, I’m not one who usually posts on blogs- in fact yours is the only blog I’ve ever chimed in on with my two cents. And each time I’ve posted, it’s been about one thing-your absolutely fabulistic, addictive, stupendous oh so delicious brownie recipe. So today is no exception- just wanted to let you know I usually swap out half the cocoa with the Hershey’s dark cocoa in said brownie recipe. As if it were even possible, it makes that recipe even better. (Specially if you drizzle them with white chocolate and add the mandatory sprinkles!) The color and taste contrast is AMAZING!

    Hope you’re managing to get some sleep!

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Lisa! I appreciate it so much. Sleep with a newborn has been in fragments, but I shouldn’t complain because she really is a good sleeper and napper. 🙂

  25. Hi Sally, I need a chocolate for a men’s meeting Wednesday evening. Will this recipe work for a cake? Thanks.

    1. I suggest making this chocolate cake recipe instead. And then use these ratios for the frosting. (The frosting as written here won’t be enough.)

      Or you can just make this PB/chocolate sheet cake 🙂 https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2016/02/26/chocolate-sheet-cake-with-creamy-peanut-butter-frosting/

      1. Thank you, Sally!

  26. Lillian Polley says:

    Sally, do you recommend baking cupcakes at a high temp. first and then lowering the temp. for the rest of the baking time to get a nice rise out of the cupcakes? Thanks for your help.

    1. That’s a wonderful step/trick for muffins, but not for cupcakes– specifically this recipe. You want a flat top for frosting.

  27. hey girl- these look so delish!

  28. Kirsty Vittetoe says:

    I love this yummy idea!

  29. I’ve always made Hershey’s Especially Dark Chocolate Cake with peanut butter frosting for my husband’s birthday (which is coming up in November), but this recipe makes me want to shake things up a little this year! Watch out Hershey’s, there’s a new dark chocolate cake in town!

    1. I need to find and try that cake recipe!

      1. https://www.hersheys.com/kitchens/en_us/recipes/hersheys-especially-dark-chocolate-cake.html

        I always sub hot coffee for the boiling water. I often have trouble getting this cake to rise evenly, but the taste makes up for it.  I’ll be interested to see how your cupcakes compare!

      2. THANK YOU!!

  30. Why the over 3 hour total time if prep/cook is only 45 minutes?

    1. Includes cooling 🙂

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