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 | Reusable Piping Bags or Disposable Piping Bags | Wilton 1M Frosting Tip | Reese’s Pieces Candy | Hershey’s Cocoa Powder
  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!

61 Comments

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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..

  5. This recipe says it yields 12-24 cupcakes, this is a big range. How many standard size cupcakes would this yeild?

    1. Hi Jasmine, this recipe yields 12-14 cupcakes.

  6. I am not quite sure what espresso powder is. I have regular ground espresso beans. Could I use that?

  7. 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!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      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.

  8. Hi Sally – The Special Dark Hershey’s says “dutched cocoa” on it, is this not the same as dutch processed? Confused by the destinction.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tara! Yes, dutched cocoa is the same as dutch processed.

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