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. I am currently waiting on my cupcakes to cool. WHY DOES THAT TAKE SO LONG!? I’ve already *ahem* taste tested one and the cupcakes are UH-MAZING. I don’t know that these will be sent to the office with my husband tomorrow after all. 😉

    Anyways, I do want to include this in my comment because if there are others like me…..comment section is where I go when I have a question about a recipe. I like to see what others have encountered..tips….etc. The blog post states the batter will be thin. Mine was complete opposite. I double and triple checked my ingredients but my batter was almost brownie batter consistency. I was leery and already planning a new batch, but when I pulled my cupcakes out, they were (are) PERFECT! So, if you have a thicker batter and you KNOW you added everything, don’t panic! They will be ok! 🙂

    Thanks for another homerun, Sally! I haven’t made the frosting yet, but no doubt it’s going to be awesome!

    1. I’m glad the cupcakes were a big hit and I appreciate you reporting back!

  2. I was so excited to see you had posted a dark chocolate cupcake recipe! I just tried your super moist chocolate cupcakes last week, and those were awesome, but dark chocolate is even better, in my opinion! I love how soft these cupcakes are. I got about 15 cupcakes out of the batter and they were all gone quickly! I paired them with your white chocolate frosting and they were great!

  3. If I do not have Heavy Cream, can I use full fat milk for the Peanut Butter frosting?

  4. I just made these cupcakes in mini form. They were a big hit. I used two teaspoons of batter to fill the cups half way. I baked them at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. I frosted the cupcakes with a 1M tip and used one Reece’s Pieces in the center. They looked like mini flowers. I would definitely make these again even switching up the flavor of the frosting.

  5. My husband loves this recipe but prefers bundt cake to cupcakes. Do I have to change the recipe at all for a bundt pan? Do I still fill only half full? Thank you!

    1. I would actually suggest using this recipe for a chocolate bundt cake – you can skip the cheesecake filling and top with the peanut butter frosting! Yum!

  6. Abbie Dennison says:

    I want to make these cupcakes for a party next Wed Oct. 17. I bought the Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa. Unfortunately, this is a new formula that is entirely “dutch- process” cocoa instead of a blend of natural & dutched cocoa. Your notes at the bottom of the recipe warn not to use “dutch-process” cocoa. Are there any changes I should make to insure a good result with this new formula of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa?

    1. Hi Abbie! It would require a little recipe testing to alter this recipe for dutch process cocoa. I recommend finding a chocolate cupcake recipe specifically calling for it. I’m sorry I don’t have one!

  7. Hi Sally!! I’m a fan of every recipe of yours I’ve tried!! I’m about to make these cupcakes for the first time for a Halloween event but wanted to ask a question about the icing…do you think if I put a few drops of orange food coloring into the icing it will mess it up? Thank you!

    1. Hi Claire! Won’t mess it up at all. It should take the color nicely.

  8. Hi Sally .
    I made this peanut butter frosting to go on
    your chewy fudgy brownies , but the end result
    was a greasy tasting peanut butter frosting I threw it out in the trash, I could not bring myself to serve that on top of brownies to our dinner guests.

    1. Hi Heather! Sorry for the trouble. How frustrating! Did you use natural or oily peanut butter?

      1. Heather M. Whipple says:

        I used neither. I used Jiff creamy peanut butter. That is the brand I always buy and use. Maybe it was something with the butter going beyond room temperature. Not melted. I don’t know. Please let me know.

  9. Can these be frozen with the frosting or does the frosting have to be made fresh? I’ve made other cupcake recipes of yours and have frozen them with no problem, but this one doesn’t say you can so I wanted to check!

    1. Unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before frosting and serving.

  10. Beth Cavanaugh says:

    I made these recently for a coworker and they are truly amazing. The frosting is so creamy and not at all overly sweet like so many other frosting are. I want to make the frosting for my mother’s birthday, but she prefers yellow cake. Is there a recipe you can recommend to go with the frosting?

    1. Hi Beth! I recommend my yellow sheet cake.

  11. What can I use instead of heavy cream for the frosting, how do I make it non dairy

  12. I made these cupcakes for my mom’s birthday and we loved them. I especially loved the peanut butter frosting. I will definitely make them again! Thank you!

  13. Rosalina Kaydee says:

    Hi Sally I made these and while they were moist and I loved everything about them, they lacked a depth of flavor that normally draws me to your recipes. Something is missing with these ones. Maybe a buttery taste. These were too plain and the frosting was so overpowering. I want to try them again but with modifications.

  14. Hi Sally,

    the recipe looks great but we can’t have eggs. What’s the alternative so we can still enjoy the super moist cupcakes.

    1. I haven’t tested this recipe with any egg substitutes – but let me know if you try one!

  15. peanut butter frosting is to die for!!

    1. So happy you enjoyed the frosting, Rhonda!!

  16. Kristin Bell says:

    Made these and 2 of your other cupcake recipes for co-workers and my husband’s game night buddies and they were devoured and much loved by everyone! People loved all 3 recipes but the peanut butter frosting was the showstopper. One of my co-workers said she wanted to cry it was so good. I had buttermilk to use up so I went ahead and made another dozen for my husband’s co-workers and added some chocolate drizzle on the tops. Big hit!

    1. So glad to read this and I love the reaction to the peanut butter frosting. 🙂 It’s one of my favorites!!

  17. Sally,
    Do you think I can safely double this recipe to make 30 cupcakes?

    1. Hi Kelly! I recommend making two individual batches of these cupcakes! Doubling can lead to over or under mixing 🙂

  18. These cupcakes are Devine. Love the frosting but the cupcakes would go well with ganache, chocolate frosting or just fresh cream. A winner.

  19. Hi Sally, awesome recipe! I made the peanut butter frosting with heavy cream but I would like to try it with cream cheese instead. Do you think I can substitute heavy cream 1:1 with cream cheese?

    1. Hi Sarah, I recommend trying to replace the butter (or half of the butter) with cream cheese and not the cream – you will need the added liquid for the correct consistency of your frosting!

  20. Hi Sally! Tried this recipe today, and my cupcakes completely sunk! I didn’t think I overfilled them (about two regular spoonfuls per cup, instead of a measuring spoon), but could I have overbaked them? Although I did 18 minutes to start with, in my next two trays, I dropped them by a minute and they were still cooked through at 15…makes me wonder if I need to try for less time? I was afraid to put even less batter into the cups since there was already barely any in there (so it seemed). They taste ok, but definitely not as flavorful as I’d like. Any suggestions for improvement? I love the flavor of the frosting, though I did make mine suuuper thick by accident and couldn’t pipe it with a tip…how do you tell when a frosting to too thick to pipe? Sorry for the long review, I tend to talk a lot. Hope you can help!

    1. Hi Lydia! 15 minutes is very short for cupcakes– are you using natural cocoa powder and using enough flour? I fear your batter is too thin or you’re not using enough batter per cupcake. If you find the frosting too thick, you can beat a couple Tablespoons of heavy cream or milk into it to help thin out.

      1. I followed the recipe exactly. Hershey’s cocoa, so guessing that’s natural cocoa. The batter wasn’t as thin as I was expecting, to be honest. It’s possible I didn’t fill them enough, since it’s like I was eating air…sorta. But with the amount of leavening agent in here they’d likely overflow if I were to go a bit more per cup. Thanks for the response- I might just need to try again with some tweaks. Sift the flour/cocoa mixture too, since that wasn’t blending nicely into it.

  21. Can I use Black Cocoa in this recipe?

    1. This is a great question! Black cocoa powder is similar to dutch cocoa powered in that it’s stripped of its acid, it won’t react with baking soda to help your cake rise. I don’t recommend it for this particular recipe. It should work in most recipes calling for dutch process powder!

  22. Hi,

    I’m super excited to try making these, but I have two questions:

    1. Will I need to adjust the baking time if I’m making these in the mini cupcake pans? I don’t want them to dry out.

    2. What kind of peanut butter do you recommend with these? Kraft or Skippy’s or the organic kind?

    Thank you very much!

    1. Hi Kat, for mini cupcakes see recipe note #3. For this frosting I recommend a commercial brand like Jiff or Skippy – not the natural or organic brands as they tend to be far too oily.

  23. Heather M. Whipple says:

    Do you have a recipe for sour cream chocolate cupcakes? Or could you post a chocolate cupcake recipe that has sour cream as one of the ingredients.
    Please let me know.

  24. Hi Sally;

    I’m getting ready to make these but realize I only have espresso coffee not powder or instant. Can I brew a cup of it and add it that way? If so how much of the brewed expression should I add?

    1. Hi Brooke! If you don’t have espresso powder or instant coffee on hand, just leave it out. Do not add liquid coffee to this cupcake batter.

  25. I made these this week for my friend who requested cupcakes with Reese’s cups and pieces. I used Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa instead of the special dark, because the special dark says it is dutched… And expresso instant powder. I added a Reese’s “thin” peanut butter cup by putting a spoonful of batter in the cupcake paper,then adding the thin peanut butter cup, then the rest of the batter on top of that. I sprinkled a few crushed Reese’s pieces on top, then baked . Made your peanut butter frosting with crushed Reese’s pieces… they turned out great! Many people at my office said “Best cupcake ever”. I always look to your recipes first, they always come out wonderfully
    Thanks Sally!

  26. Jessica Peterson says:

    If I wanted to add peanut butter whiskey to the cupcake batter would it just replace the buttermilk??

  27. Perfect! Not sweet at all and really moist! My family love it so much and wanted more! Thank you for the recipe! Gonna make it again!

    1. Hi sally!
      I want to ask, can i substitute all purpose flour to cake flour? And what is the exact measurement? Thank you!

  28. Joan Alvarez says:

    I made these cupcakes today for my nephew’s birthday. I put a Reese’s cup inside (at his request). They were amazing. The frosting is incredible!! Very easy to make. Everyone loved them. Thanks for the great recipes.

  29. Do you need to keep them refrigerated after frosting?

    1. Hi Cassie, After decorating anything with buttercream, it’s fine for 1 day at room temperature. After that, I would definitely refrigerate it. But, use your best judgment and whatever you are comfortable with- I’ve never had any problems leaving frosted desserts at room temperature for a day.

  30. Hi Sally,

    The Recipe is amazing!! i have a 6 cup cake pan. is the bake time same?

    1. Hi Amitha, If they are jumbo size then the bake time will be longer.

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