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Make sure the ice cream machine bowl is frozen. At least 24 hours before you plan to churn the ice cream, put the ice cream machine's bowl in the freezer to freeze. It should be frozen solid before using (you should hear no liquid sloshing inside when you shake it).
Shake the coconut milk. Cans of coconut milk separate into a thick, creamy layer and a thin watery layer on the shelf. Before opening them, shake the cans of coconut milk thoroughly to incorporate the layers.
Set aside 1/2 cup coconut milk. Open the cans of coconut milk. Measure 1/2 cup and set this aside in a small bowl.
Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan. Pour the remaining coconut milk into a 2-quart saucepan.
Add the sweetener and salt. Add the sweetener (agave, maple syrup, honey, or sugar) and salt.
Warm the coconut milk. Warm the coconut milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sweetener has completely dissolved into the coconut milk, 1 to 2 minutes.
Whisk the starch into the reserved coconut milk. Add the starch to the reserved 1/2 cup coconut milk and whisk until the starch is totally dissolved.
Add the cornstarch mixture to the coconut milk. While whisking, pour the cornstarch mixture into the warm coconut milk while whisking gently. This is your ice cream base.
Heat the ice cream base until thickened. Increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the base has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not allow the base come to a boil.
Stir in the vanilla. Remove the base from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Chill the base. Pour the base into a shallow container. Let the base cool slightly on the counter so it's not hot when you put it in the refrigerator. Before refrigerating, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface — this coconut milk base doesn't form a skin quite as badly as a milk-and-egg base, but it doesn't hurt! Cover the container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or for up to 3 days.
Begin churning. Your base should be completely chilled and slightly pudding-like in texture. Pour the base into the ice cream machine and begin churning.
Churn until the consistency of soft-serve. Churn the ice cream until it thickens considerably and is about the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Depending on your machine, this could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes — keep an eye on it! If you want to add any extras, add them now and churn a few more seconds until they are fully incorporated.
Transfer to a freezer container. Scrape the ice cream into a freezer container. Press a piece of parchment or wax paper against the surface to prevent ice crystals from forming. Seal the container.
Freeze for at least 4 hours. Freeze for at least 4 hours to harden the ice cream.
Warm slightly before serving. If your ice cream is too hard to scoop, let it warm a few minutes on the counter before scooping. I find that coconut ice cream melts a little more quickly than milk-based ice creams, so don't wait too long!