These are the rules we go by at the restaurant (in no particular order), and if you follow them, you'll find that your desserts will be that much better. We call them Olives Laws.
1. Don't separate eggs with your hands. Go shell to shell.
2. Eggs are large and at room temperature.
3. Butter is unsalted.
4. Brown sugar is light brown unless specified, and tightly packed.
5. All nuts are toasted unless specified.
6. Milk always refers to whole milk. If you use skim or low fat, your desserts will suffer for it.
7. Use pure vanilla extract.
8. Use parchment paper liberally. Don't sweat the expense; you can reuse it.
9. Use the highest quality chocolate and cocoa you can find.
10. Scrub lemons, limes and oranges before zesting.
11. Always have a perfectly clean bowl and whisk when whipping egg whites.
12. Fruit should be perfectly ripe; cooking won't ripen a rock-hard pear.
13. Ingredients should be at room temperature whenever possible.
14. Don't use ultra-pasteurized cream. Pasteurized cream is hard to find, but well worth the search.